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Published: Thursday, November 3, 2005
(More Sports articles)

Favorite college tradition allows safer drinking



It is double overtime, and the home team is down to its last shot. Just feet away from his target, the home team's ringer bends his knees and shoots. His form is perfect -- he effortlessly controls the trajectory of the ball with his hands. For a moment, the room goes silent. Then the shot goes in -- swish -- and the crowd goes wild.

We're not in John J. Lee Amphitheater, and this is not basketball. This is a Yale tailgate, and the game is beer pong.

Yes, we play pong at Yale. Those of you who grew up in the Northeast and believe in the difference might call the Yale version Beirut, but the New York Times calls it beer pong. Whatever you call it, it is everywhere. Wherever there is a party -- dorm rooms, suites, frat houses, off-campus apartments, and especially football tailgates -- you can usually find a pong table.

Beer pong is not unique to Yale, either. Travel to almost any college in the country and you'll find some version of a game involving cups, ping-pong balls, a long table, and, of course, beer. What started in the 1980s as a new way for Dartmouth frat boys to get drunk has become what is arguably America's favorite drinking game.

But now, by banning beer pong from the Game, the Yale administration is discouraging one of the safest, most socially redeemable tailgate staples.

Make no mistake -- despite Budweiser's recent marketing of Bud Pong ("designed to be played with water"), beer pong is inextricably linked with alcohol. It's in the name, after all. But those who put the beer pong rack in the same category as binge-drinking aids such as the ice luge and the beer funnel just don't understand how the game works. Beer pong is a competition that involves relatively responsible drinking. In fact, unsafe behavior and binge drinking are almost impossible for the beer pong player.

Firstly, and most importantly, beer pong uses beer, not liquor. In already alcohol-ridden situations such as tailgates, beer drinking is a much safer alternative to the consumption of hard liquor. Unlike with punch or ice luge-poured shots, it is easy to know how much you have had to drink, both from counting beers and how full you feel. In addition, the alcohol content of beer is far lower than that of liquor or even wine, so it is at least a little safer.

Secondly, beer pong is a game, not a drinking contest like flip-cup or keg stands or funneling or shot-for-shot. The object of the game, for anyone who's been living under a rock for the past decade, is to sink the ping-pong balls in all of your opponents' cups -- not to drink as much or as quickly as possible, the goal in a traditional drinking game. Most beer pong players get more satisfaction from winning than from drinking. After all, in beer pong, if you're drinking, you're losing.

The uniqueness of beer pong goes beyond the fact that it's a game rather than a drinking competition. The entire game is structured to discourage over-imbibing. Unlike almost any other "drinking game," beer pong requires a significant amount of concentration and hand-eye coordination, exactly the skills that alcohol impairs. People who have had one too many rarely last long at a pong table. More importantly, the crowded social atmosphere that surrounds pong tables ensures that the line of people waiting to play is usually too long for those who have already lost to play again. Winners, on the other hand, don't have to drink their beer, so the team that keeps playing doesn't end up overdrinking any more than the losers who have to sit down. The truth about beer pong is that those who drink don't play long and those who play long don't drink much.

Beer pong is also notable among the "drinking games" banned by the new regulations for its relatively leisurely pace. Players take time off to chat with friends, debate the rules, or even discuss strategy. And even if they do concentrate on the game, it still moves far slower than flip cup, funneling or keg stands. all of which could see you chug three or four beers in a matter of minutes. The most important result of this slow pace and social atmosphere is that if someone does have too much to drink, everybody knows, and Yale's usually-enlightened alcohol policies ensure that the student gets the help they need. But more often than not, only a few people at a time will be drinking at a pong table. The rest will be hanging around, waiting for their turn to play.

It is worth waiting for, because, quite simply, beer pong is fun. It is not only a game of skill, but also a catalyst for social interaction. It brings people together, from different colleges, different frats, different interests and different backgrounds. Beer pong is universal. Even the nerdiest visitor can get respect at a frat house if he or she has a wicked pong shot. But the greatest thing about the game is that it is dramatic, dramatic enough that sober people can and often do watch it. There's a poster hanging on walls across campus that reads, "Beer Pong: Heroes are made one cup at a time." People take their pong seriously. When it comes down to it, this is not drinking for the sake of drinking ­-- it is sport more than anything else. People really have a "love of the game." In this context, even Bud Pong's "use water" instructions are not that ridiculous. Many a beerless or underage pong lover has found him or herself playing with water or juice (or, if they followed the suggestion of thefacebook.com's aborted pong tournament, 2 percent milk).

Students will be drinking more than water, juice and milk at this year's tailgates, and it is important that they be safe while they are doing so. The motivation behind the University's new regulations is more than public relations -- there is a sincere desire to make students and alumni safer. But while the increase in student safety achieved by many of the new measures is debatable, the verdict for the drinking game ban is clear. As everyone from frat boy to YPU hack to Dwight Hall denizen could tell you, banning beer pong is a mistake.



Nick Baumann is a senior in Morse College and former Sports Editor for the News. His column on Ivy League and Yale sports appears on Thursdays.

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