NCAA Calls a Foul on Beer Ads

THERE'S too much advertising of beer and wine on television. Too much footage of attractive young people on the beach, in the mountains, or gathered before the ski-chalet fireplace, engaged in exciting and wholesome activities that are enhanced by the dewy bottle or can: footage conveying a romanticized and misleading image of carefree, cost-free fun. To its credit, the National Collegiate Athletic Association did something about it. In its new $1 billion, seven-year contract with CBS to televise the NCAA basketball tournament beginning in 1991, the association of colleges and universities cut back advertising of beer and wine from 90 seconds per hour to 60 seconds. The NCAA wanted to ban such advertising from its basketball telecasts altogether or at least to limit alcohol ads to spots urging moderation in consumption. Ultimately it compromised with the powerful brewing industry. Nonetheless, the cutback is a step in the right direction.

Even as they mount a ``war on drugs,'' Americans still pay too little attention to alcohol as the nation's foremost substance-abuse problem. Alcoholics in the US outnumber drug addicts 5 to 1, and there are 23,000 drunk-driving deaths a year in the country.

Young adults and teenagers are eminently at risk for alcohol-related problems. NCAA officials say that college and university administrators identify alcohol abuse as the No. 1 problem on campus. TV advertising didn't create this situation, but it can exacerbate it.

In their ads brewers unmistakably target young people, whether as current buyers or, if they're under age, as tomorrow's consumers. (It appears that beer marketers are attempting to turn even Halloween - a youngsters' holiday - into a drinking occasion like St. Patrick's Day.)

The NCAA wisely - and courageously, given the clout of brewers and broadcasters - has tried to weaken the link between alcohol and sports, especially college athletics. There's a kind of perversity in indirectly using college athletes - some of whom aren't even of drinking age - to peddle products whose ill effects will fall heavily on their contemporaries.

Let's hope the NCAA's action is the beginning of a trend.

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