PROVO — Google would launch a month later, Bill Clinton was president and Harry Potter was 12 and in his second year at Hogwarts in August 1998, the last time BYU wasn't the nation's No. 1 stone-cold sober university in the Princeton Review's annual rankings.
The LDS Church-operated school is America's driest for the 14th straight year, a dynastic reign in the top spot longer than any string of championships the school's football program has ever managed during its best runs.
Wait, 14? Sounds like a two-touchdown lead over the rest of the nation.
It's also the longest string any school has had atop any Princeton Review list, a fact cheered by school and church leaders and students alike.
"This streak of top rankings has become a source of fun and pride for students and alums," BYU spokesman Michael Smart said. "Many tonight might be celebrating No. 14 over root beer or Sprite."
The stretch has left writers grasping for new ways to tell the story. "BYU. Still stone. Still cold. And still sober," wrote Kent Larsen two years ago in a headline on the blog Times and Seasons. How will you top that this year, Mr. Larsen?
This year's rankings, released Monday, are based on a survey of 122,000 students who rated their own schools in dozens of categories based on their campus experiences. The Princeton Review's guidebook, "The Best 376 Colleges: 2012 Edition," goes on sale today.
The responses of BYU students who participated in the unscientific, 80-question online survey put the Provo school first in lowest use of beer and hard liquor, and fourth in lowest-reported use of marijuana. The combination of those categories led to the stone-cold sober ranking.
If BYU is dry, Wheaton College in Illinois is just a drop or two wetter, once again finishing second soberest.
Stone-cold sober might seem a natural result of BYU's honor code, signed by each student, who thereby agree not to use of alcohol or drugs. The relevant survey questions, rated on a scale of 1 to 5, are how widely is beer used at your school? How widely is hard liquor used at your school? How widely is marijuana used at your school? How popular are fraternities/sororities at your school?
BYU bans fraternities and sororities.
The streak is so long now that it might seem a natural inheritance to the school's incoming freshmen, many too young to remember anything different. They wouldn't remember, for example, that back in '98, Mark McGwire, with 70 home runs, and Sammy Sosa with 66, were considered heroes for breaking baseball's home-run record. Or that the NBA locked out its players and the Utah Jazz played in the NBA Finals — only one of which happened again this summer.
BYU's soberness is annually contrasted in the Princeton Review guidebook with the nation's top party school, but while the Y. remains the steadying North Star of the rankings, the party schools come and go, seemingly vying for the top spot. This year, the title no college president wants — America's top party school — goes to Ohio University-Athens.
Besides Wheaton, the other schools most often on the top 10 lists with BYU for least use of alcohol and marijuana were three military schools — the Air Force, Coast Guard and Naval Acadamies — the College of the Ozarks, Wesleyan, Grove City College, CUNY-Brooklyn and Thomas Aquinas.
Pepperdine, which is part of the West Coast Conference, which BYU joined this summer for most sports other football, finished ninth on the sober list.
Wellesley College in Massachusetts has the best professors, according to the survey, and Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania has the best dorms. Wheaton College made it to No. 1 for best campus food.
The University of Utah and Westminster, like BYU, have two-page profiles in the new guidebook. The U. was eighth for lowest use of hard liquor.
BYU was also No. 1 for most religious students.
Late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley regularly cheered BYU's top ranking. In fact, he first commented on the rankings two years before BYU reached No. 1. In a 1996 campus devotional address titled "Stand Up for Truth," President Hinckley began by saying it was "a rare privilege to speak to this 'stone-cold sober' gathering of university students."
The No. 1 school was Deep Springs College in tiny Dyer, Nev. BYU was No. 2. President Hinckley congratulated students on being No. 1 among big universities.
To those who responded to the survey that year, he said, "You spoke for this whole vast student body, and you spoke in such a way as to make us proud of you. I hope that while others may gain the reputation for being stone-cold inebriated — if that's what 'partying' denotes — you will be recognized for being stone-cold sober and alert and on top of things."
"Each of our 376 best colleges offers outstanding academics," said Robert Franek, the book's author and Princeton Review senior vice president/publisher in a press release. "We don't rank them hierarchically, 1 to 376, because they differ widely — and importantly — in their program offerings and campus culture, and that is their strength. Instead, we tally lists of the top 20 schools in 62 categories based entirely on what students at these schools tell us about their campus experiences. Our goal is not to crown one college 'best' overall, but to help applicants find and get in to the college best for them."
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