Coaches, CSPI Urge NCAA to End Beer Ads on College Sports

NCAA to Review Alcohol Policies on April 28, But CSPI Questions Propriety of Anheuser-Busch Ties


When it reviews its alcohol policies later this month the NCAA should vote to end beer ads on televised college sports programming, according to the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV—a coalition of health advocacy groups and coaches organized by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The campaign is calling on the 18 college presidents that make up the NCAA’s Division I board of directors not to let the close financial ties between the NCAA and mega-brewer Anheuser-Busch influence their decisions. CSPI says that an example of those ties is an internal briefing paper recently prepared by NCAA staff which pointedly reminded the 18 college presidents of Anheuser-Busch’s financial generosity to the NCAA.

“We call on the college presidents who govern the NCAA to personally take control of the alcohol-policy review from the NCAA staff,” said George A. Hacker, director of CSPI’s Alcohol Policies Project. “College presidents should recognize that Anheuser-Busch is motivated not by philanthropy, but by a desire to sell beer to college sports fans, and to have a seat at the table when decisions like these are being made.”

Anheuser-Busch paid the NCAA $2 million in 1990—less than a year after the NCAA rejected a proposed ban on beer ads in favor of a policy that allows beer ads to the exclusion of ads for other alcoholic beverages. That money and subsequent payments fund the NCAA’s alcohol-education programs. In 1996, the NCAA installed a former Anheuser-Busch marketing executive, Ronald J. Stratten, to administer them.

In 2004, Stratten helped publicize an Anheuser-Busch-funded survey designed to downplay the problem of alcohol-fueled fan misbehavior at college sports events. That survey maintained that findings such as “93 percent of students do not throw beverages,” at games and “92 percent of students do not fight with other fans,” were evidence of safe celebratory behavior at college sports events, in contrast to “widespread myths” to the contrary.

“Regrettably, Mr. Stratten’s track record at the NCAA suggests that he’s more interested in playing defense for brewers, than going on offense against underage or excessive drinking,” says Hacker. “The Division I board of directors can produce a credible review of NCAA alcohol policy only if Mr. Stratten or any other former beer-industry employee is not staffing or participating in any way.”

Donations from Anheuser-Busch to the NCAA are dwarfed by the millions of dollars they and other brewers spend on ads on college sports. Much of that revenue is kept by broadcasters, but some is eventually divided among the coffers of the NCAA, dozens of athletic conferences, and hundreds of individual colleges. In 2003, the industry spent more than $52 million to place 4,747 ads on college sports, including $21.1 million for 395 ads on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament alone. In 2002, there were more beer ads on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament than there were on the Super Bowl, all college football bowl games, the World Series, and the NFL Monday Night Football series combined.

Many coaches, college presidents, and athletic directors increasingly see advertising beer on college sports as inconsistent with their efforts to reduce underage and binge drinking on their campuses. 227 colleges and universities have signed the campaign’s College Commitment—a pledge to prohibit alcohol advertising on locally produced college sports telecasts and to work within their athletic conferences and the NCAA to end all alcohol advertising on college sports. That effort also has the backing of former North Carolina basketball coaching legend Dean Smith and U.S. Representative Tom Osborne (R-NE), the former University of Nebraska head football coach. Other current and former coaches support ending alcohol advertising on college sports, including Jim Calhoun, Joe Paterno, and John Wooden.

“The NCAA says that its advertising should be ‘in the best interests of higher education,’” said Jay Hedlund, manager of the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV. “It is inconceivable that college presidents could believe that hawking beer to students and other young people is in the best interests of students, higher education, or the NCAA.”

Each year, 500,000 students suffer alcohol-related injuries, including 70,000 students who are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. 1,400 college students die each year in alcohol-related deaths.

“Coaches know first hand that alcohol and college sports do not belong together,” said Dean Smith. “We have made progress, but really need the Division I schools, which appear on television more often, to take a stand.”

The Division I board of directors is scheduled to conduct its alcohol-policy review when it meets in Indianapolis on April 28.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]