All Work, No Play

The tailgate at this year’s Game was disappointing in light of previous ones

From the moment the Pep rally was rained off Thursday night, and the tailgate moved from the flooded Ohiri Field to a crowded parking lot, the signs were clear that this year’s party was going to be a damp squib. Alas, Saturday fulfilled expectations. While Harvard and Yale students made the best of the weak hand they were dealt and should be applauded for their efforts, neither the tight rules nor their shoddy implementation proved conducive to the kind of fun and successful tailgate experienced in years past.

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Party-goers could have been forgiven for mistaking the tailgate entrance for an airport security queue—from the lines of police who yelled at students to “Keep moving!” as they passed through the turnstiles all the way to the insistence that all drinks were disposed of before entrance. Inside, officials clutched detailed plans of the area to make sure student groups stayed within their assigned square footage. Micro-management was the watchword as both the Boston Police Department and the Harvard University Police Department kept a suspicious eye on student fun levels.

At 1 p.m. the Boston police apparently decided that we had all had enough, and, without warning, shut down the beer distribution tents. Neither those selling wristbands nor the bartenders were warned of the shutdown, which was earlier than the publicly announced closure time—half-time of the game. Some students paid $5 for beers they were then not allowed to buy—but tough luck: no immediate refunds. (According to Campus Life Fellow John T. Drake ’06, refunds will be given today at University Hall, which will be little help for those undergrads who have already left for Thanksgiving break). With the beer tents shut, students soon found that there was not even any water to be found, except perhaps at the First Aid Tent. Harvard University Dining Services had run out, and, of course, no one was permitted to bring their own supplies through the entrance. Students made the best of it, but many soon fled the crowded police zone, either to trek the long distance to the more relaxed and better organized alumni tailgates or to give up and go home.

The shambolic organization of the whole event—over-managing students, and failing to manage drink distribution—turned what should have been the best party of the year into a well-policed children’s playground, complete with moonbounces. Arbitrarily shutting down beer tents and yelling at students might work in the short-run, but if it becomes the norm, students will learn quickly that they have to buy and down their beers quickly—before the police get wind of it—or just not bother to come in the first place.

Bad logistics were not the only problem. This year’s alcohol policy—that of only allowing Beverage Authorization Teams (BATs) to distribute beer and confiscating all other alcohol—is credited with bringing down the number of hospitalizations from 30 in 2004 to one on Saturday. Both Undergraduate Council President John S. Haddock ’07 and Director of the Alcohol and Other Drug Services Office Ryan Travia claim that this shows how responsible students can be. But the improvements were hardly a result of individuals understanding the dangers of alcohol and making responsible decisions about their own health.

By contrast, having 30 students hospitalized in 2004, when students made their own decisions, is hardly shocking as a fraction of both Harvard and Yale’s undergraduate populations (roughly 12,000 combined) or the thousands who actually attended the tailgate. Saturday’s tailgate was certainly healthier—even with the water shortages—but it would be healthier still to turn the tailgate into a salad-eating contest, or, better still, ban it entirely. We hope that in 2008 the College is able to strike a better balance between safety and trust than it achieved this year.

Credit must go to the House Committees, student groups, and students themselves who made the most of a bad situation. Without their efforts, the day would have been truly wretched. Instead, it was merely a disappointing substitute for what has traditionally been one of the most exciting events of the College’s social calendar. Perhaps it was a fitting atmosphere for the defeat Harvard was soon to be dealt from a side that just knew how to play better: last year at their tailgate and this year on the field.