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Game Over

August 8, 2008

The University of Florida is poised to ban drinking games, marking the latest in a series of crackdowns on the kind of booze-infused tomfoolery that's long been a staple of college life.

Under newly proposed regulations, Florida students -- on or off the campus -- would be prohibited from “excessive rapid consumption” of alcohol. The policy specifically bars “drinking games,” as well as “alcohol luges,” which are carved ice blocks that serve as frozen pathways for liquor shots.

Patricia Telles-Irvin, Florida’s vice president for student affairs, said the university’s existing regulations were already designed to curb binge drinking. The proposed changes, however, are meant to target specific high-risk drinking activities, she said.

The regulations also forbid keg standing, an acrobatic drinking feat where students are inverted over a keg, with legs held aloft, as they guzzle straight from a tap.

“This generation really wants us to be more specific, and we’re trying to be as clear as possible about what we mean,” Telles-Irvin said.

The changes come fresh on the heels of the Princeton Review naming Florida the nation's No. 1 party school, but Telles-Irvin said the new regulations were in the works well before the university received the dubious honor.

Florida isn’t alone. AsTime magazine reported last month, drinking games have been banned at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Tufts University.

Craig Thompson, president of Florida’s Interfraternity Council, said he’s “skeptical” of the proposed regulations. While Thompson says he supports efforts to curb binge drinking, he’s worried about administrators poking into the personal lives of students, even if the university is well intentioned.

“Right now my concern is that if there’s going to be regulation that it’s going to be policeable, and they’re not just adding rules to add rules,” said Thompson, who is 22.

The university already bans fraternities and sororities from having kegs in their houses, but the new keg ban and other regulations would apply to students living off the campus as well. Telles-Irvin, however, says she’s not going to become a modern-day Eliot Ness, knocking down doors to bust up beer pong games.

“We’re not going to be policing anybody,” she said. “I can assure you of that.”

Florida’s trustees are expected to vote on whether to approve the new rules at a September meeting.

Beer Pong Under Fire

In the pantheon of drinking games, “beer pong” holds a special place of affection. It is to drinking games what poker is to cards. And, perhaps because of beer pong’s heralded status, the game has been the direct target of several recent prohibition efforts.

Like many drinking games, beer pong’s beauty lies in its simplicity. It is played on a Ping Pong table; the object is to toss a table tennis ball across a net and land it in a beer-filled cup on the other side. While the game has different rules in different circles, a successful shot often means your opponent has to chug a beer.

Not surprisingly, beer pong ain’t exactly Wimbledon. Participants are known to get drunk, shout and often leave a trail of plastic cups in their wake. That sort of behavior didn’t sit well with the locals in the sleepy town of Oxford, Ohio, where students at Miami University were known to stay up into the wee hours playing beer pong.

About two years ago, the city council tried to ban drinking games outright.

“We’re a small town, and to have that [game] happen in lots of locations, that was a real distraction,” said Bobbi Burke, the university’s coordinator of campus affairs.

But when drinking games were threatened with prohibition, students scoffed. They pleaded with local government officials, and ended up striking a compromise. The council ditched its efforts to ban drinking games, opting instead to tweak a city ordinance on outdoor furniture. The city now requires that tables be returned indoors after the games are over, eliminating the unsightly remnants of beer pong games before sunrise.

“It's been a lot of give and take over the last two years,” Councilwoman Alysia Fischer said of negotiations with students. “But I think we have finally come up with a mutually agreeable solution to the visual blight that is often the aftermath of beer pong.”

At Georgetown University, drinking games like beer pong can be deemed an “aggravating factor” when students are sanctioned for conduct violations. Andy Pinot, spokesman for Georgetown, said he was unsure how many students -- if any -- have been punished under the regulation, which is about two years old.

“We believe drinking games such as beer pong are inherently risky and unwise,” Pinot wrote in an e-mail Thursday. “Our policy highlights the risks of drinking games and encourages our students to be thoughtful about how they socialize.”

All this beer pong-bashing doesn’t sit well with Bill Gaines, co-founder of bpong.com, a Web site that sells beer pong accessories and sponsors the World Series of Beer Pong. Gaines, who was a swimmer at Carnegie Mellon, says the game actually imparts valuable lessons about competition and creates camaraderie among diverse groups.

Asked about the potential for beer pong to lead to trouble, Gaines said the game isn’t to blame.

“You can sit there and watch a church service in college and drink every time they say ‘God,’ “ he said. “Do you blame God?”

 

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