Utah college chiefs want liquor-free sports TV

Published: Friday, Aug. 8 2008 12:09 a.m. MDT

PROVO — A broad coalition of football and basketball coaches, athletic directors and college presidents is asking the NCAA to ban beer commercials from college sports broadcasts.

The group includes the presidents and athletic directors at Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Southern Utah University, as well as the president and football coach at the University of Utah.

So far, 60 Division I college presidents, 240 athletic directors and 101 football and basketball coaches have signed letters calling for the NCAA to add beer to a list of products that cannot be advertised during college games. That list includes cigarettes, guns, nightclubs and gambling.

The petition is sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which sent the letters to NCAA president Myles Brand Monday in anticipation of Thursday's annual meeting of the NCAA executive committee and Division I board of directors in Indianapolis.

The effort is dubbed the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV.

U. President Michael Young and football coach Kyle Whittingham signed the letters, which call for a review of the NCAA alcohol advertising policy and suggest that phasing out beer commercials over three years would be relatively painless.

Young said the U., named last week as the 20th most religious school in the nation, has fewer alcohol-related problems than most of America's colleges and universities. Those problems are so prevalent and widespread that even public schools have banned alcohol from campus, as Oklahoma University did in 2005 after a 19-year-old student died of alcohol poisoning.

Now 81 percent of college presidents ban alcohol from some portion of college dorms. They are motivated by tens of thousands of alcohol-related injuries and sexual assaults in which alcohol is a factor. A 2005 Boston University study found that 1,700 college students die each year of alcohol-related causes.

Beer companies are major players in the television sports advertising game. Anheuser-Busch and Coors spent nearly $400 million on TV sports ads in 2007. Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing spent nearly $30 million to advertise during the 2007 NCAA basketball tournament, according to TNS Marketing Intelligence, and beer was the second-largest advertiser behind automobiles. Still, beer-commercial revenue accounted for only a fraction of NCAA tournament broadcast revenues — about 5 percent.

Young doesn't anticipate that banning those commercials would make a major dent in TV revenue for networks, the NCAA or college athletic programs.

"I think it would take a certain percentage of potential advertisers out of the market who would then be replaced fairly quickly by other advertisers," Young said. "If you look at the ban on cigarette advertising on television or in magazines, I don't think it has caused any of the TV networks or magazine publishers to go broke. Other advertisers step into their place.

"And frankly, if there's a modest revenue decline, it's worth it. If in exchange there is a decline in underage drinking, it's a trade any college president would make."

The mtn., the television network of the Mountain West Conference, does not carry beer commercials, network vice president Kim Carver said.

"As a network, we want to act in a manner consistent with the values of the NCAA and the institutions in our conference," Carver said. "It hasn't come up. I don't think we would take beer advertising."

The mtn. has declined commercials for Viagra and similar products.

The Princeton Review last week named BYU the nation's top Stone-Cold Sober school for the 11th straight year, so it was no surprise that President Cecil O. Samuelson and athletic director Tom Holmoe signed a petition calling for sober broadcasts.

"Many have signed this letter and it's only natural BYU would be a part of this effort," BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said. "It is, of course, a concern of ours and we're pleased to see it's a concern of many others as well."

BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall hadn't seen the letter signed by football coaches such as Florida's Urban Meyer, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Ohio State's Jim Tressel, and basketball coaches such as USU's Stew Morrill, Memphis' John Calipari and Kennesaw State's Tony Ingle, a former BYU coach.

"I think if it's a very clear display of morals, values, integrity and beliefs and it's a chance to stand up for those values and positively promote change, we need to do so," BYU's Mendenhall said. "I think President Samuelson is acting completely consistently with our faith and the direction of this institution and I'm honored he would do that and I'm anxious to be aligned and follow that lead."

USU President Stan Albrecht and athletic director Scott Barnes and SUU President Michael Benson and athletic director Ken Beazer also signed the letters. Some Big East schools decided to wait until conference meetings in November, the Tampa Tribune reported.

For more information on the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, visit www.cspinet.org.


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com

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