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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Anyone who has been in Gainesville long enough knows how UF President Bernie Machen feels about alcohol, or more specifically, underage binge drinking.

In the first 19 months of his term as UF's president, five students lost their lives in alcohol-related deaths.

It soon became apparent that controlling a university with a widely known game-day reputation - and one that is an annual participant in the "world's largest cocktail party" - would take a different type of leadership.

We figured that making it to No. 4 on the list of The Princeton Review's top party schools was clearly not the top 10 ranking Machen was striving for. So, the former head of one of the driest campuses in the nation, the University of Utah, began to take action as soon as he made it to Gainesville.

He banned liquor advertising at campus venues. Then, he banned it from university television productions. He also suspended the Lex & Terry syndicated radio show on WRUF, the campus radio station, because of a live-drinking segment. He spoke out against all-you-can-drink specials at bars and said the drinking culture has been called Gainesville's "dirty little secret." The university also made it a requirement for freshmen to complete an online alcohol education course before registering for classes.

And in 2005, UF joined the national campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV along with Ohio State University, the University of Minnesota, Harvard University, Yale University and other schools.

It became clear last week that Machen is not alone in his crusade against the promotion of the excesses of alcohol in the hands of college students.

A Thursday letter from university presidents across the country asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association to tone down or completely eliminate alcohol ads during sponsored events. The letter, signed by 100 college presidents and athletic directors, said it's "inconceivable" that the NCAA should profit from beer promotion given issues with underage and binge drinking on college campuses.

While we have nothing against on-campus attempts to curb alcohol abuse among students or even reasonable measures by Party Patrol to reel in some of the chaos around town, we don't necessarily believe that universities have the right to dictate what the NCAA displays during game broadcasts.

Though it's obvious that many college students tune into the games, Nielsen statistics show 88 percent of the TV audience for Division I men's basketball games and 90 percent of the audience for women's games are over the age of 21.

And we highly doubt that not seeing beer commercials during halftime would stop anyone from reaching for a cold brew. It's not as simple as an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality. It's understandable that universities would not want to have endorsements of alcoholic beverages on their campuses, but trying to control what the wider audience can view during games is unnecessary.

Universities seeking to stop out-of-control alcohol use would be wiser to keep the focus on their campus with a multi-dimensional method: a combination of education, policy changes and the promotion of responsible drinking.

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Trying to change an entire culture is not feasible.

With the practice of countering the pervasive drinking culture with messages highlighting the consequences of irresponsibility - who hasn't seen those sketchy-drunk-guy ads or the one with Urban Meyer advising students to choose a designated driver? - the university presidents who signed the letter would be providing a better service than simply limiting the exposure to alcohol advertising on television.

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