September 2000


For more information,  please contact:

Kim Miller at (202) 332-9110, ext. 338

Or view:

Summary of HEC/RWJ Symposium on Intercollegiate Athletics and Alcohol and Other Drug Problems (March, 1999)

CSPI's 1998 Action Alert Break the Alcohol-College Sports Connection -
CSPI's initiative to reduce and prevent binge drinking on college campuses.

September 28, 2000 Letter to the Knight Commission Regarding Alcohol Sponsorship and Advertising on the NCAA Reform Agenda


Dr. Hodding Carter III, President & CEO
John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
One Biscayne Tower
Suite 3800
2 South Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33131-1803

Dear Dr. Carter,

Thanks in large part to the leadership of the Knight Foundation Commission on Inter-Collegiate Athletics, the NCAA has made great strides in restoring the integrity of college sports. We write to you today to ask that the Commission give priority attention to a related issue -- alcohol sponsorship of college sports -- that likewise threatens the integrity of college athletics, as well as the quality of life on most college campuses.

Alcohol is by far the cause of the most serious and pervasive drug problems on college campuses today. Binge drinking by college students, many of them underage, is still at epidemic proportions. National surveys show that 44% of all college students engage in binge drinking, and athletes in particular are at highest risk: 64% of male athletes can be classified as binge drinkers.

Nearly every campus struggles to reduce the level of dangerous alcohol consumption and the widespread harm and economic costs that result. Despite the destructive and disruptive influence of alcohol in academia, many athletic programs receive (sometimes substantial) financial support from alcoholic-beverage (usually beer) sponsorship and advertising. Typical sponsorship agreements provide brewers access to arena scoreboards and signs, season program advertisements, as well as highly visible television advertising.

Effectively, those schools sell out their student and other audiences to brewers, who seek to capture brand loyalty among the young, heavy-drinking, moderately affluent student consumer. Such arrangements, for the NCAA as well as for individual schools and athletic conferences, undermine the educational missions of academic institutions and compromise their abilities to take credible, effective actions to control abusive alcohol consumption among student populations. They send mixed messages to students that blur the university’s principles and positions on alcohol. In essence, college teams become the lure to attract young drinkers -- and non-drinkers -- among others, to the sponsors’ products.

Alcohol sponsorships and advertising at sports events convey the false impression that there is a natural connection between alcohol consumption and participation in and enjoyment of college sports. Coaches, college substance abuse prevention experts, and physiologists agree: alcohol and sports performance don’t mix. Nor should college sports and the promotion of colleges’ most serious drug problem.

In 1998, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Donna Shalala, addressed the issue emphatically at the annual meeting of the NCAA, stating that: "We need to sever the tie between college sports and drinking — completely, absolutely, and forever." Thus far, however, the NCAA has done little to address the issue, despite the previous reduction in beer advertising during the final four basketball championships (but not during pre- or post-game shows).

Citing ethical concerns, a handful of Division I schools have already opted independently not to accept financial support from the alcohol industry. Among them are the University of Minnesota, the University of North Carolina, Brigham Young University, Baylor, the University of Rhode Island, and the University of Kentucky. These schools did not report undue hardship or difficulty in securing adequate support for their athletics programs from alternate sources.

While these schools have set a great example, further progress requires the NCAA’s leadership. According to CSPI’s own preliminary 1999 survey of college athletic directors, nearly half the 194 schools that responded (46%) reported having currently entered into a sponsorship agreement with a producer, distributor, or retailer of alcoholic beverages. Moreover, we found that more than half (57%) of the alcohol industry sponsorship agreements involved relatively modest funding ($25,000 or less), dispelling arguments that athletics programs could not survive without alcohol industry funding.

Meanwhile, a steady stream of media coverage continues to document alcohol-related problems in connection with high-visibility teams sports, which have developed a reputation as the locus of alcohol-fueled violence, aggression, harassment, and vandalism. In the past year alone, just a sampling of the negative stories on alcohol -related incidents involving college athletes have included: coverage of an incident involving the video-taping of a sexual assault in Ohio; a late-night stabbing outside a bar in upstate New York; attempted robbery, conspiracy, and false imprisonment by football players in California; vandalism and attempted sexual assault by a basketball recruit in Georgia.

With a myriad of other commercial sponsorship options now available, and the health and well-being of athletes and campus communities at risk, there is simply no justification to continue allowing college sports to be a vehicle for alcohol promotion. The Knight Commission is in an excellent position to bring this issue before the American public and to help educate university leaders, broadcasters, and alcoholic-beverage companies about the incompatibility of alcohol marketing and college sports. It has the track record, it has the respect, and it has the credibility to bring about significant changes that can reduce or eliminate the unprincipled and misleading promotion of alcoholic beverages to underage college students and to the many fans who may be even younger.

The Knight Commission’s leadership on this issue would go a long way toward enhancing the integrity of college athletics and improving the health and safety of campus communities. We are interested in knowing your thoughts on this issue, and we would be pleased to provide further information and assistance as appropriate. To discuss this matter further, please contact me at (202) 332-9110, extension #343. On behalf of my colleagues and co-signers listed below, thank you in advance for your consideration. 


Mr. George A. Hacker
Alcohol Policies Project

Dr. John W. Smeaten
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
Lehigh University
Dr. Randolph D. Smoak, Jr.
American Medical Association
Dr. Sandra Hoover
A Matter of Degree: Reducing High-Risk Drinking Among College Students
Dr. David P. Roselle
University of Delaware
Dr. Stephen Gamble
University of Southern Arkansas
Mr. Leonard Lamkin
Deputy Director
Reducing Underage Drinking Through Coalitions
Dr. Ed Roach
University of West Alabama
Mr. Gerry Willis
Associate Dean of Students
Salve Regina University
Ms. Julie Thompson
Substance/Sexual Abuse Services
University of Northern Iowa