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Take Harvard-Yale Back From the Puritans

The University’s paternalistic attempts at intervention will make The Game less fun and more dangerous.

Like many students at the College, I recently received an email from my (wonderful) resident dean letting my House know that selling our tickets to the Harvard-Yale football game to other students violates the Athletic Department’s policy. The Winthrop House resident dean reportedly threatened to refer to the Office of Academic Integrity and Student Conduct anyone who attempts to sell their ticket — an especially common practice this year, when “The Game” will be at relatively faraway Fenway Park, which, unlike Harvard Stadium, enforces strict seating rules.

As long as students stop selling on administrator-accessible House email lists, I don’t know how or if the College intends to enforce this policy. Gifting tickets is apparently still allowed, so it’s not like Fenway could just check every student’s ID. (And if they tried, well, this is an event where students stampeded through the metal detectors last year). But we should all resent the idea that Harvard undergraduates should not be allowed to decide what to do with their ticket. Lower-income students, in particular, deserve the choice between going to a football game and getting over $100.

It’s not just that this iteration of The Game promises to be less convenient and less socially fulfilling. It’s that some students genuinely have little interest in athletics, and attending an hours-long event outdoors in late November is not their cup of tea. On the other hand, some of their classmates have friends who want to attend The Game despite not being current Harvard undergraduates.

Supposedly, the ban on selling tickets supports “community” and “school spirit” (in the words of the resident deans), but as with every policy, we should evaluate it based on consequences, not intentions. If the less-interested aren’t allowed to sell, literally everyone involved loses, including on metrics like “community” and “school spirit.” The uninterested, like Maxwell K. Ho ’21, can no longer exchange their ticket for the cash to fund a meal with their friends, and the buyers can’t bring their friends to The Game. The rule even costs anyone at The Game who would prefer a positive, energetic crowd: Without sale, the seats in Fenway would either be filled with less enthusiastic spectators or remain empty, while the would-be attendees sit at home. It doesn’t take a supply-and-demand graph to see how allowing students to sell their tickets, rather than making them either give them away or reluctantly attend, would result in more of these beneficial trades.

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Yes, this petty prohibition seems like a trivial problem, especially given the difficulty enforcing it. But it is a useful exercise in seeing how moralistic interventions in markets can be regressive and counterproductive on their own criteria.

And another intervention — this one mandated by Uncle Sam — could have more serious consequences.

In prior years, the barriers between the pre-drinking and game-watching sections of the typical undergraduate’s Game day have been a few hundred yards (and, in theory, a metal detector). Administrators turn a blind eye to the massive underage alcohol consumption, so students tailgate until they’re comfortably numb, stop, and find their seats a few minutes later. Now, those barriers have multiplied, and that’s partly Harvard’s own making.

When students who want to be drunk for any event — formals, parties in the Quad, or The Game — know in advance that they will not be able to drink there, the solution is obvious: Drink much, much more before they leave their rooms. And, of course, how much they need to drink depends on how far in the future that event is.

So, you do the math: You’re a sophomore or junior below the drinking age. You live a 15-minute walk from the Science Center Plaza, where the College-sponsored tailgate — er, “Harvard-Yale On-Campus Student Gathering” — will take place. You know that alcohol will only be served in a “21+ bar monitored by [Student Events Services] staff,” but you want to check out the “Gathering” for a while, and then board the shuttle from Memorial Hall to Fenway—which will take 15 to 20 minutes. The Game will start at 12 p.m. and last for two hours. How much alcohol should you drink in your room by 10:30 a.m.?

Now, try solving that problem at 10:15 a.m., when you’ve already had three shots!

For that reason, given the foolishness of the drinking age in the context of college, this year’s Game was probably doomed to result in more binge-drinking, vomiting, and hospitalizations from the moment it was moved to Fenway. The question, then, is: How do we let people drink as close to kickoff as possible, despite that logistical challenge?

I grant that we probably could not serve alcohol to the underaged at an official, centralized tailgate with staff present. But then why not move the tailgate to its usual home around Harvard Stadium and let student groups and House Committees provide the refreshments? That would not only give a bit of plausible deniability but also shave several minutes off the shuttle ride. (That area is also much larger than the Science Center Plaza and the tiny Ipswich Lot by Fenway, the site of another College-sponsored tailgate.) It wouldn’t fix the problem entirely, but I would predict that by giving students a shorter delay and encouraging lower-percentage drinks, we could save a lot of ambulance miles.

This year’s Game presented special challenges to administrators, but students have found their own solutions: After all, they know their own preferences for different experiences far better than administrators. They will act accordingly to circumvent the rules where they can, often foiling the best-intentioned plans. I hope my future-policy-making peers, who currently find themselves on the side facing these policies, consider parallels when the tables are turned and the stakes are greater.

Trevor J. Levin ’19, a former Crimson Arts Comp Director, is a Social Studies concentrator in Mather House. His column usually appears on alternate Mondays.

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