KING JAMES BIBLE: Crackdown Won't Curb the Boozing

According to the front-page story in yesterday’s Crimson entitled “‘Game’ To See Tighter Drinking Rules,” The Game will not remain the same.

At this year’s Harvard-Yale tailgate, not only will the infamous keg ban remain in place, but also the Boston Police Department will be stepping up its presence, possibly forcing an ID check at the pregame festivities.

If adopted, that would be a disastrous decision.

Before I explain that statement, let’s comb through some history on the subject.

In 2000, four students had to be treated for life threatening alcohol poisoning, the blame for which was pinned on the superfluity of tapped and unattended kegs.

In response to that health nightmare, then-Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 imposed an unpopular ban on all kegs for the 2002 edition of The Game and ran an op-ed in The Crimson in its defense.

In the piece, Lewis crafted a careful argument which pointed out that kegs often lead to overconsumption of alcohol and thus more alcohol poisoning relative to cans, because the quantity of beer consumed from a keg is difficult to track. He also pointed out that “the higher cost of canned beer than kegs is actually an argument in favor [of the ban],” because it could lead to the purchase of a smaller quantity of beer due to the higher cost.

Then, he made a fatal miscalculation.

“There is no reason to think that students faced with cans and hard liquor will favor the hard stuff while the same students faced with kegs and hard liquor would go for the beer,” Lewis wrote in the op-ed.

Lewis was right in that the ban of kegs did lead to less beer being readily available at the 2002 tailgate. That’s because instead of drinking from kegs, students opted for the next cheapest form of booze, which was not cans or bottles of beer, but hard alcohol. And the hard stuff is much more difficult to keep track of from the standpoint of quantity consumed than the beer distributed from kegs that Lewis was so concerned about.

Unsurprisingly, there were more incidences of alcohol poisoning in 2002 than there were in 2000.

Now, the administration at the insistence of the Boston police seems prepared to institute even further restrictions on alcohol consumption at the 2004 rendition of The Game.

Like all other restrictions, this will do virtually nothing to curb the amount of alcohol consumed during Harvard-Yale weekend. Sure, underage students might not be allowed to walk up to House U-Hauls and grab a frosty brew or a cup of some Tropicana Twister-and-rum concoction. Instead, they’ll just binge drink in their rooms at 10 a.m., or carry around a flask full of some noxious liquor that even a homeless alcoholic wouldn’t drink.

What these restrictions will do is limit the amount of “soft” alcoholic beverages consumed at the tailgate even further, because underage fans will refrain from carrying around easily distinguishable cans and bottles of beer in favor of more easily concealable liquor. From an alcohol poisoning standpoint, that is a lethal blow, due to the relatively diluted nature of beer compared to hard alcohol. With the former, it takes a very concerted effort to become dangerously intoxicated, but with the latter, a simple miscalculation can punch your ticket to UHS.

If you grant me the premise that students who want to drink, will drink and that you’d rather have those students drinking beer than hard liquor, then you should also agree that the College should be focusing more of its policy on promoting the consumption of beer over more potent forms of alcohol. And by promoting beer, I don’t mean selling off the sponsorship of the Harvard-Yale festivities to Miller Brewing Co., but rather avoiding policies which create inherent incentives for students to swap beer for hard liquor.

On that note, I think Undergraduate Council President Matt Mahan ’05 has the right idea with regard to his proposal of a “pancake breakfast,” the starches from which would serve to combat alcohol poisoning.

(It’s important to note here that Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd and Assistant Dean of the College Paul J. McLoughlin II told The Crimson yesterday that they, in fact, came up with the pancake breakfast idea. Despite the fact that nothing piques my interest like a good council president vs. admininstration fight to the death, I’m not going to get in the middle of this mess, but I do have to say that if Kidd and McLoughlin did propose this idea, then I applaud them in the same manner.)

These types of proposals are mired in what I’ll dub “realism.” They are based upon the assumption that students will drink (some even to the Ted Kennedy or Boris Yeltsin levels) and, therefore, attempt to find ways to keep the risk of overconsumption, or alcohol poisoning, to a minimum.

It’s time for the College administrators to step up and adopt a more responsible policy than “out of tailgate sight, out of mind.” It’s time for those folks in University Hall to take a realistic view of the situation and enact policies which, rather than being token jabs at the perceived problem like the keg ban, actually show some regard for student safety.

But most of all, it’s time to realize that in the world of drinking, beer is not the enemy and instituting policies that either implicitly or explicitly combat its consumption can lead to more of the very problems which those restrictions sought to curtail.

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.