Safer Saturdays “Think Before You Drink” initiative aims to keep game days fun for everyone
Hawkeye alumni have great expectations for the upcoming football season, and why not? Many starters return from the squad that last year finished 11-2, chalked up Iowa’s first BCS bowl win, and finished the season ranked No. 8 in the nation.

To help make the 2010 season a complete success, The University of Iowa is launching a new initiative aimed at making game days exciting and safe. “Think Before You Drink. Before the Game. During the Game. After the Game.” is the message of the new campaign, which seeks to reduce bad behavior linked to drinking. It involves a wide range of University offices, in cooperation with community leaders and law enforcement agencies, working together to enforce some new rules and step up enforcement of others.

“Our fans are the nation’s best—they are enthusiastic and respectful of others,” says Gary Barta, director of intercollegiate athletics.  “Many of our fans consume alcohol on game days, and they do so responsibly. However, a small minority drink too much and cause problems for themselves and others. To those folks, we say, ‘Please think before you drink.  Don’t put a black eye on the black and gold.’”

Student safety, not prohibition

The emphasis on safe and responsible alcohol consumption is part of a larger UI and Iowa City effort to move the UI alcohol culture closer to the national norm, says Tom Rocklin, interim vice president for student services. “Think Before You Drink” comes on the heels of a vote by the Iowa City City Council to implement a rule that allows only people over the age of 21 in bars after 10 p.m.

Rocklin explains the scope of the problem by noting that nearly a quarter of UI undergraduates report having suffered physical injury as a result of alcohol use within the last year. That’s one and a half times the national average.

But don’t confuse that concern with prohibition, Rocklin insists. Earlier this year, in the Daily Iowan, he wrote:

“Here’s a little-known fact: The UI has absolutely no objection to the legal, responsible use of alcohol. Our goal has long been to protect the health and safety of our students. Too many of our students drink on too many occasions in ways that are too risky. Everything we do related to alcohol is designed to reduce those numbers and protect the health and safety of students.”

Rocklin backed up that message last fall by allowing alcohol to be served to legal-aged students during a tailgate party at the Iowa Memorial Union prior to the Iowa–Ohio State game. After that event proved successful, Rocklin applauded, saying it gave him the evidence he needs “to continue to (slowly and cautiously) experiment with our policies.”

Enforcing new policies and existing laws

As part of the campaign, UI Police and other officers will be enforcing some new rules and stepping up enforcement of others:

• Consumption of alcoholic beverages in UI parking lots and ramps will be allowed for only one hour after each game, and all tailgaiting activities must end two hours after the game. In addition, no after-game consumption of alcohol will be allowed for the Oct. 2 night game against Penn State.

• After the the game, police will focus on impaired drivers, establishing vehicle safety checkpoints, increased road patrols, and OWI enforcement teams. The UI encourages all drivers to be safe and sober on their way home.

• Iowa City’s open container ordinance will be strictly enforced. That law prohibits people from carrying open beer, wine, and “hard” lemonades on public sidewalks and roads.

“We’re all for alumni, students, and fans having a good time,” Rocklin says. “We encourage people to drink responsibly, because the only way we are going to reduce the number of Hawkeye students hurt by their misuse of alcohol is by working together.”

Steve Parrott

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© The University of Iowa 2009