It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the arrangements for tailgates at this year’s Harvard-Yale game left very few people happy. Students from both schools who consider Harvard-Yale weekend one of the highlights of undergraduate life knew this year’s tailgates would be different, but that did not lessen their frustration with the ban on U-Hauls and long lines for ID checks. And for Harvard administrators and the Boston Police Department, the regulations they engineered appeared to do little to cut down on the number of underage drinkers — or the number of students who drank so much they required medical treatment.
Yes, many students still had fun at The Game. And yes, we are thankful that, for the most part, the Boston Police Department appeared to use discretion in deciding whether or not to arrest underage drinkers. Perhaps more importantly, the prominence of medical care at the field reflected an excellent move by Harvard administrators, and we hope that decision — and not a dramatic increase in binge drinking — explains the increase in hospital admittees from the tailgates.
At the same time, the arrangements this year often reflected a sheer lack of common sense. From a shortage of toilets to long lines stretching outside Ohiri Field, the tailgates were managed in a way that was destined to encourage misbehavior. We can’t defend students who tried to jump fences to enter the tailgates, but we are not shocked that they chose to do so given how poorly the entrances to the field were organized. And the fact that a Boston Police Department official expressed surprise at seeing students drinking hard alcohol at the tailgates — especially with the ban on student-purchased kegs — simply reveals a lack of understanding as to what a crackdown on underage drinking at The Game would entail.
In the aftermath of the tailgates, the Boston Police Department floated the idea of denying liquor licenses for future undergraduate tailgates — a proposal that further illustrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the very problems the BPD is trying to combat. Such a move would be an “out of sight, out of mind” solution, one that assumes that if underage drinking is not happening in a field next to Harvard Stadium, it isn’t happening at all. Fortunately, it appears that the BPD has backed off from its earlier statements, and we hope Harvard works with Boston Police to ensure that any new regulations reflect a realistic assessment of what their actual impact will be on student behavior.
Like Michigan-Ohio State, Florida-Georgia or any of college football’s other storied rivalries, Harvard-Yale takes on importance both for the action on the field and the atmosphere off the field. The Game and its attendant rituals combine to create one of the few traditions that Yale undergrads participate in as a community, and it is hard to imagine that experience being maintained if tailgates at Cambridge are severely curtailed. At Yale, students, administrators and local authorities have managed to keep the tailgates safe and enjoyable. It would be a shame if that is a tradition we can only celebrate every other year.