NCAA Chooses Money Over Students' Health


Recently, presidents of about 100 of the nation's best-known colleges and universities called on lawmakers to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18. Their reasoning is akin to that surrounding the law of prohibition of years gone by: the drinking age is encouraging drinking, not curtailing it, specifically binge drinking.

Binge drinking is the consumption of excessive alcohol in a short time, which almost always results in intoxication. Binge drinking is very dangerous and students die from this act every year.

Since most college students can't legally drink, their drinking is driven underground. Their parties take a rebellious tone where they are encouraged not only to drink by peers, but to drink heavily.

The theory of lowering the drinking age is that college students will lose that "bad boy" and "bad girl" persona, which attracts many to drinking parties. At age 18, they can drink, but without the pressure to drink in excess. Drinking will no longer represent rebellion. It will no longer be a badge of a "rebel." That's the theory.

This is not theory, but fact: alcohol on college campuses is a very serious problem.

These statistics pulled from various reliable sources give an assessment of the alcohol problem on college campuses for students between ages of 18 and 24: Some 1,700 college students die each year from alcohol-related incidents; 599,000 students are injured under the influence of alcohol.

More than 696,000 students are assaulted by another student who has been drinking; more than 97,000 students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date raped; 400,000 students report having had unprotected sex and more than 100,000 students report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex. These statistics are less than three yeas old.

While the debate rages on about age limitations for teenagers and young adults, our "more mature" adults continue to advertise alcohol to mainstream America during college games. In fact, the beer companies aim at the young. Check the ages of people in beer ads.

We are sacrificing our teenagers' lack of maturity to handle a dangerous drug in exchange for the money that comes in from lucrative beer advertising campaigns. The college presidents are going to lawmakers with the wrong idea. The first spigot that should be turned off is the alcohol ads that flow freely during televised events of college sports.

The NCAA had an opportunity to make a major statement that alcohol is hurting their colleges and universities but the money meant more to them than their students. A petition was sent to the NCAA by 102 coaches and more than 200 college presidents and athletic directors, among them, Jim Tressel of Ohio State, Urban Meyer of Florida and Tommy Tuberville of Auburn University.

The person sitting in the most important position of that decision was the committee chairman, University of Georgia President Michael F. Adams, who said the vote of the NCAA "reaffirmed our conservative position on alcohol advertisements," which allows only one beer ad per hour, but that didn't keep Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors from spending nearly $400 million on television sports ads in 2007.

Our college students, teenagers and children viewing college sports don't need a conservative decision on beer advertising. They need leadership. They need the same kind of leadership that says "if you get caught messing with this stuff twice on our campus, we will send you home."

They need to know there are no beer ads during college sports events because alcohol destroys young lives. The NCAA could have made this statement but did not.

College presidents took the wrong petition to lawmakers. Since the NCAA won't listen to them, perhaps lawmakers will. Should lawmakers take up a petition from college presidents to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18, I hope they will speak to people in local communities, because the vast majority of 18-21-year-olds are not in colleges; they are in local communities.

A college president might very well get his or her binge drinking problem solved by the lowering of the drinking age but create many more problems for 18-21-year-olds, such as an increase in single-vehicle crashes and fatalities, an increase in suicide rates because of alcohol use, an increase in those who become alcohol dependent, and an increase in drinking of younger teens because of the influence 18-21-year-olds have on them. There's not even any evidence that lowering the drinking age will stop binge drinking.

Most people who have a drinking problem have enablers, people who turn their heads, who pretend the problem is not real or is not bad enough to confront or stop. The problem almost always continues and worsens until it causes major problems and ruins lives.

The NCAA's decision to continue the advertisement of beer ads during the broadcast of college sports to keep the spigot of dollars flowing after coaches, athletic directors and college presidents have cried out for help only enables more students to continue abusing alcohol during their college careers.

Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga

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