A cynic would say the petition to get the NCAA to ban beer commercials from college sports broadcasts comes from people who don't have to deal with the economics of television, the way networks do. The petition was signed by 60 Division I college presidents, 240 athletic directors and 101 football and basketball coaches.
But a realist would understand that these are the very people who see first-hand how alcohol robs young people of their minds and talents and how inconsistent it is to associate beer with athletic events that demand discipline and proper nutrition.
Americans today get it when it comes to cigarettes. That wasn't always the case. Forty years ago, cigarette ads were natural partners with sports broadcasts. In the 1950s, announcers for the Brooklyn Dodgers regularly said they would donate 1,000 cigarettes to a veterans hospital after each home run.
That sounds absurd today, and there is no reason why beer sponsorships shouldn't sound just as absurd to viewers and listeners in a future generation.
In recent years, the news has been filled with stories of college students who die of alcohol-related injuries. A Boston University study put the number of such deaths at 1,700 in 2005 alone. Other recent studies have shown that people who begin drinking before age 20 suffer far greater damage from alcohol consumption than do older adults, including irreparable harm to parts of the brain responsible for judgment or controlling destructive impulses.
Also, 40 percent of people who start drinking before age 15 become alcoholics, compared with 5 percent who begin after age 21.
What do these statistics have to do with beer commercials during football and basketball games? Only a fool would think advertising has no effect on behavior. Anheuser-Busch and Coors would not have spent almost $400 million on sports ads in 2007 if those ads didn't boost sales.
And it would be equally foolish to assume those ads entice only people over the legal drinking age. Young drinkers are more likely to binge and engage in destructive behaviors than are responsible adults. Beer ads are designed to appeal to youths.
Utah's college presidents and coaches deserve applause for signing this petition. In a nation where sports are increasingly driven by profits, it's refreshing to know people in power can put principle above money. Now the NCAA should act quickly to impose a ban.