As word spread Wednesday about Harvard’s decision to bar students from bringing alcohol into the tailgates at this year’s Harvard-Yale football game in Cambridge, dismayed students and alumni from both schools said they expect the restrictions will at best constrict and at worst risk eroding one of the Ivy League’s longest-standing annual traditions.
Harvard’s new rules — announced Tuesday night in an e-mail to Harvard House Committee chairs — are the most recent and stringent in a series of policy changes at both schools aimed at checking dangerous drinking practices, rowdy behavior and hospitalizations. Some students and alumni said they understand the desire to curb binge-drinking, but many said the new policy undermines the spirit and tradition of the event, set to take place Nov. 18 in Cambridge.
According to the new rules outlined in the e-mail, no form of alcohol can be brought into the tailgate area, and vehicles entering the area will be inspected to ensure compliance. Beer, spiked cider and possibly wine will be available for sale to students of legal drinking age, while food and non-alcoholic beverages will be offered to students at no cost. “Visibly intoxicated individuals” will not be allowed into the tailgate.
Last year, the Yale administration moved to ban drinking games and paraphernalia and to shut down tailgates after halftime. In 2004, Harvard banned kegs, U-Hauls and Winnebagos and set a limit on the type and quantity of alcohol each student could bring into the tailgate. In both cases, students took the rules lightly. At last year’s game in New Haven, most tailgates did not shut down after halftime and students encountered little resistance from authorities.
Harvard’s rules for this year’s tailgate continue the restriction on drinking games and paraphernalia, ban standing or sitting on top of vehicles, and insist that the tailgate end at halftime.
Athletics Director Tom Beckett said he thought Yale’s rules for the 2005 game did curb alcohol consumption to a certain extent, but that since some students still had to be taken to University Health Services for drinking too much, they were not entirely effective. He said the Harvard administration is doing what it thinks is best for Harvard and for students.
“Universities have a responsibility to look out for the well-being of all the people in that community,” Beckett said. “I think they’re trying to do the right thing, as Yale tried to do the right thing.”
Harvard administrators were unavailable for comment Wednesday. Yale Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg and Dean of Freshmen Affairs George Levesque declined to comment until they receive further information from their colleagues at Harvard.
Though Harvard’s 2004 tailgate rules were more stringent than Yale’s in 2005, the number of alcohol-related incidents at the past two Harvard-Yale games varied little between the schools. In November 2004, Boston police said at least 25 students were taken to area hospitals for alcohol-related incidents, more than double the 10 students hospitalized in 2002. 2004 marked the first year city police were present at the tailgates. Last year in New Haven, about 30 people were sent to University Health Services or local hospitals for excessive alcohol consumption during The Game, but YPD Lt. Michael Patten said that number is low relative to the size of the crowd.
“Considering the fact that there were 55,000 people there, 30 isn’t a big number,” he said after The Game last November.
Harvard senior Jessica Benjamin said she thought the 2004 Harvard tailgate was still fun despite the increase in regulations.
“[It was] pretty much a regular tailgate … people drinking, acting crazily. A lot of people stayed in the tailgate the entire time, ” Benjamin said. “[This] decision is going to make people a lot less happy.”
Many students and alumni said they think the new rules are unfortunate and misguided, and only one day after the announcement, both campuses were buzzing with the news.
Jon Markman ’08 said criticism and speculation are rampant among students.
“All the panlists that I’m on have exploded about this,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that people are getting pretty fired up about it.”
Markman said his friends raised concerns about the negative effect the liquor ban might have on the atmosphere of the event.
Daniel Lewis ’08 said he thinks the tightened rules will cause people to drink even more recklessly and earlier in the day than before.
“People are just going to drink a lot in a short period of time,” he said.
Harvard freshman Joseph Thumpasery said that although he does not plan on drinking, others will despite the crackdown.
“The fact is, even if they try to prevent drinking, people will try to get around it and just pregame harder, and that can’t lead to good results,” he said. “I don’t plan to go and get wasted myself, but it’s sort of traditional.”
Yale alumni also expressed concerns about the tailgates this year. According to the new regulations, only students holding a valid Yale or Harvard ID and Harvard alumni who purchase special tickets will be allowed into the student tailgating area. The rules did not mention Yale alumni, leaving some doubt as to whether they will be able to tailgate in Cambridge.
Ryan Allen ’05 said the tailgate, not The Game, is where alumni go to catch up, making the event an integral part of the Harvard-Yale experience.
“The tailgate is why they come — to reconnect, to socialize, to catch up,” Allen said. “The game itself is loud, and people are confined to their seats. The tailgate is The Game; the game is just the cherry on top.”
Both Yale and Harvard students said they are concerned about this year’s turnout in light of the new regulations.
“I heard of people planning to boycott the game,” Lewis said. “It’s such a big dilemma.”
Rebecca Wojciak ’09 said she worries people will think the alcohol-free tailgates will not be worth the trek to Boston and will go straight home for Thanksgiving. Another student, who requested anonymity, suggested staying at Yale to tailgate and watch The Game on television, but he said he would regret not showing support for the team.
Markman said a low turnout of Yale students and alumni is a real possibility, especially because The Game is away this year, but he hopes the turnout will not be significantly affected.
“It’s possible that some people are going for the alcohol. … That’s part of the tradition,” he said. “But hopefully people will see there’s more to that tradition than just the alcohol.”
— Staff Reporter Jessica Marsden and Contributing Reporters Aaron Bray and Caitlin Roman contributed to this report.