March 15th, 2006

NCAA Beer Ad Ban Sought

By Carter Strickland
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

For the next three weeks Jake Poses will be for sale.

Maybe not his body, but, at least in some small part, his mind, the little corner of the cerebral cortex that fires up libidinous urges.

The highest bidder could spend about $20 million for that piece of gray matter and others like it in sports fans nationwide. For 60 seconds every hour, some beer company will use NCAA tournament advertising to tell fans like Poses to drink its product.

"I am a 21-year-old going to Duke, willing to have a beer during the game and maybe have some after the game and then go to the convenience store the next day," said Poses, a senior political science major. "I understand, whether subliminally or not, the ads that I see may influence me to buy a particular brand."

It seems Poses has accepted his fate. Former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, 246 university presidents, the American Medical Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have not.

That group, along with more than 180 national, state and local organizations, has joined in an effort to push college presidents and the NCAA into banning all television beer advertising during NCAA-sanctioned events.

"College presidents should not be in the business of pitching beer to young fans and the students of their respective universities," said Jay Hedlund, manager of CSPI’s Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports on TV.

Osborne, now a Republican congressman, has introduced legislation to ban the ads. He’ll continue to push his campaign at a news conference today, the eve of the NCAA tournament.

"We recognize that an end to alcohol advertising during televised college games will not, by itself, resolve the ‘culture of alcohol’ that exists for too many college students," Osborne wrote in a letter to the NCAA executive committee. "However, such a policy would declare and affirm college’s genuine and consistent commitment to a policy of discouraging alcohol use among underage students. ... We strongly encourage the committee to act on the side of the health and safety of college students, athletes and young fans by ending all alcohol advertising during NCAA broadcasts."

Smith also entered the letter-writing campaign.

"Ask yourself this question: If aspirin were the leading cause of death on college campuses, do you think chancellors, presidents and trustees would allow aspirin commercials on basketball and football telecasts?" Smith asked in an open letter to the NCAA board of directors.

CSPI and others estimate there are 1,700 alcohol-related deaths on college campuses each year.

"We are losing the cream of the crop every year to alcohol," said Catherine Bath, executive director of Security on Campus, a non-profit organization devoted to campus crime prevention.

What networks and universities are gaining is a more than $50 million in revenue, CSPI has estimated. Networks use that money to pay schools more for television rights. So, in a sense, everybody wins — especially during the tournament, when an estimated 40 percent of all beer advertising dollars will be spent.

"They’re trying to pay for expensive contracts," said University of Georgia President Michael Adams, alluding to the $6 billion NCAA tournament contract held by CBS.

Adams was a part of the NCAA executive committee that investigated this issue in early August. At that time, it was suggested conferences and universities determine for themselves whether to ban alcohol ads.

"They passed the buck," Hedlund said.

Not so, Adams said.

"I have supported the [NCAA limit of] 60 seconds per hour," said Adams, who does not allow alcohol in his private box in Sanford Stadium. "The position we have taken is one of common sense."

Proponents of the status quo argue that the United States is a free-market society and that beer ads, while not exactly high brow, continue to pass FCC standards.

But even the NCAA limit of 60 seconds of beer advertising per hour is more permissive than the rules at many colleges, 72 percent of which have banned alcohol advertising on their campuses, according to a September 2003 report issued by the National Academy of Sciences.

The alcohol industry has set some standards of its own, as well. The industry does not advertise on shows if less than 30 percent of the audience is under 21. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University found youths were only 8.8 percent of the sports TV audience.

Banning beer advertising would force college sports to find other revenue streams. That can be done, Georgia football coach Mark Richt said.

"Sometimes people think there is not enough support for college athletics without the beer industry, maybe. I don’t know if that is true," Richt said. "There would be other sponsors that would be excited about uniting with college football."

Sixty-two percent of Americans agreed with Richt that alcohol ads should be banned from television during NCAA events, according to a poll conducted by the AMA.

"Using collegiate sports to flood the airwaves with alcohol ads undermines efforts to combat binge drinking that occurs among nearly 44 percent of full-time college students," AMA president Dr. Edward Hill said when the poll was released.

Those airwaves become saturated during the three-week run of March Madness. More beer ads (939) were shown during the 2002 NCAA tournament than were shown during the Super Bowl, World Series and Monday Night football combined (925), according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Alcohol producers spent $51.3 million on 1,788 ads during the 2001 and 2002 tournaments, another study showed.

"Duke should be ashamed of itself," Bath said. "That these universities allow beer companies to advertise and market to children during these games is wrong.

"Don’t tell me my son wasn’t influenced by subliminal messages in beer advertising."

Her son, Raheem, was once like Jake Poses, a Duke student with a bright future. Only he found alcohol early. Death found him early, too. At the age of 20, he died after a night of drinking.

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