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NCAA tournament participation associated with increases in college student drinking, binge drinking, and drunk driving episodes

A new white paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research examined the impact of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on college student drinking behavior. Data from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, a nationally representative sample of four-year, full-time college students, from the 1993, 1997, 1999, and 2001 basketball seasons were analyzed. Forty-four participating institutions competed in the NCAA Division I. Survey data from these colleges were compared to data from non-participating (control) schools in the same years; there were 25,977 responses in the final analytic sample. Drinking behaviors of interest included binge drinking in the past two weeks and drunk driving or riding with someone who had been drinking. Survey demographic measures for individuals included gender, race, age, membership in Greek life, and marital status. Demographic measures at the institutional level included men’s basketball regular season win percentage and athletic conference. The authors used a difference-in-differences model, in which they exploited both time differences (whether a respondent’s survey covered the time period for the tournament) and between-institution differences. Results indicated students at tournament schools were more likely to have reported consuming alcohol and reported, on average, engaging drinking and binge drinking at higher frequencies during the same time period, compared to their peers at control institutions. Participants whose surveys covered the period in which their institution played a tournament game had a lower probability of drinking, but reported greater rates of binge drinking and total drinking. Results from the primary regression analysis showed respondents who attended tournament colleges and whose surveys covered the tournament reported increased binge drinking occasions by 20%, on average, although total drinking among these students decreased by 4%. This implies there was greater alcohol consumption among those who were already drinking. Among students at tournament schools, there was no evidence drinking before the tournament decreased in the months leading up to and after the tournament. Other findings included larger amounts of alcohol consumed by Greek students and decreased likelihood of drinking, but greater likelihood of binge drinking among first-year students. Men reported consuming an additional seven drinks when their college team participated in the tournament. For women, the probability of any drinking declined, but binge drinking and number of drinks did not. “Dosage” (the number of tournament rounds in which a team competed) was also found to influence student drinking: When participants’ surveys covered more tournament games, they reported engaging in more total drinking and binge drinking. Both men and women at tournament schools were found to experience a four percentage point increase in the probability of engaging in drunk driving or riding with an intoxicated driver.

A major limitation of this study is that the dates on which respondents completed theirsurveys were unknown; only the dates on which surveys were processed were known. This means the period for which students retrospectively reported their drinking behaviors may not have coincided with the NCAA tournament. The authors assumed all surveys were processed four weeks after they were completed by students.

Take away: In a nationally representative sample, college students who attended an institution that participated in an NCAA basketball tournament in the 1990s or early 2000s reported a 20% increase in binge drinking and a 4% increase in drunk driving episodes. These increases were larger among males than among females.

Citation: Wooten J., White DR & Cowan BW (2017). March madness: NCAA tournament participation and college alcohol use. http://www.nber.org/papers/w23821.pdf


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