Blood (breath) alcohol concentration rates of college football fans on game day.
Abstract: The purpose of this study was to determine the Blood (breath) Alcohol Concentration (BrAC) rates of college football fans on game day. Researchers employed a time-series study design, collecting data at home football games at a large university in the Midwest. Participants included 536 individuals (64.4% male) ages 18-83 (M = 28.44, SD = 12.32). Approximately 90% (n = 482) of the sample indicated consumption of alcohol. The average BrAC for the entire sample was .061 mL/L (SD = .044). Results demonstrate the majority of college football fans consume alcohol while tailgating on campus. Various ways to minimize alcohol consumption exist including limiting the number of areas where drinking is permitted on game day. Participants appear to support these measures if alcohol consumption is legal in select tailgating areas.

Keywords: alcohol, athletics, fan behavior, blood alcohol concentration, and tailgating
Article Type: Report
Subject: Drinking of alcoholic beverages (Research)
Football (College) (Research)
Football teams (Research)
Authors: Glassman, Tavis
Braun, Robert
Reindl, Diana M.
Whewell, Aubrey
Pub Date: 08/01/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education Publisher: American Alcohol & Drug Information Foundation Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Psychology and mental health; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Alcohol & Drug Information Foundation ISSN: 0090-1482
Issue: Date: August, 2011 Source Volume: 55 Source Issue: 2
Topic: Event Code: 310 Science & research
Organization: Organization: NCAA
Accession Number: 268478441
Full Text: Alcohol use and abuse represent a well-documented public health concern and one pertinent to college campuses. According to the Core Alcohol and Other Drug Survey national data sample (2006), 84% of college students report using alcohol at least once in the previous year, and 72% consumed alcohol at least once during the previous month. Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) estimate there were 1,825 unintentional alcohol related deaths in 2005. Furthermore, the proportion of college students who reported engaging in high-risk drinking, consuming five or more drinks on at least one occasion during the past month, increased significantly from 41.7% in 1998 to 44.7% in 2005. Equally concerning, this government study revealed nearly a third (29%) of college students reported driving under the influence within the past year, a statistically significant increase of 9% from 1998 to 2005 (Hingson, Zha, & Weitzman, 2009).

Alcohol consumption on game day represents a particularly problematic issue for university officials. For the purposes of this study, game day refers to the day of an on campus football event. Studies indicate drinking rates increase on game day when compared to other social occasions among students and other college football fans (Glassman, Werch, Jobli, & Bain, 2007; Nelson & Wechsler, 2002; Prevention File, 2008). Certain college football games result in more alcohol consumption than others, including homecoming, contests between interstate rivals, and high profile games such as league championships and bowl games (Neighbors, Oster-Aaland, & Bergstrom, 2006; Neal & Fromme, 2007). This type of drinking has been referred to as extreme ritualistic alcohol consumption, defined as consuming 10 or more drinks for a male, and eight or more drinks for a female on game day (Glassman, Dodd, Sheu, Rienzo, & Wagenaar, 2010). At one large school in the Southeast, 16% of the student population engaged in this behavior while 36% consumed five or more drinks on game day (Glassman et al., 2010).

To deter students and fans from consuming alcohol in excess, some universities have implemented protective health policies. In a study published in USA Today (2005), 96% of colleges surveyed indicated their athletic departments had a policy concerning alcohol at athletic events. Additionally, 71% of surveyed universities reported designating tailgating areas on campus on game day, but only 10% kept those zones alcohol free. Other universities restrict the time allowed to tailgate prior to football games. For example, one university in the Big 12 decided to limit tailgating to three hours prior to the start of their Homecoming game in response to inappropriate behavior during previous tailgating events (Pollock, 2008). During athletic contests most universities ban the sale of alcoholic beverages (Bormann & Stone, 2001; National Collegiate Athletic Association, 2008). The NCAA (2008), reports that of its 627 members, 92% indicated that alcoholic beverages were not sold at sporting events (Alcohol Prevention Coalition, 2010).

Some students and fans drink excessively on game day due in part to misperceived norms concerning alcohol use associated with tailgating. In general, most students overestimate the amount of alcohol consumed by their peers, thereby creating what Perkins (2003) terms imaginary peers perpetuating pluralist ignorance. In an attempt to fit in with their peers, students may drink more to meet a false perceived norm (Haines, 1998; Prentice & Miller, 1993). Social norm research concerning game day drinking rates reveals that students overestimate how much alcohol their peers consume. Neighbors, Oster-Aaland, & Bergstrom, (2006) found that 77% of undergraduates consumed alcohol while tailgating and on average had 3.8 drinks. Ironically, participants under-estimated the percentage of tailgaters who consumed alcohol but overestimated how much they drank.

Researchers typically assess alcohol consumption rates by asking participants to report consumption rates during a specific timeframe. Sometimes researchers also assess alcohol use by estimating Blood Alcohol Content (eBAC). This is done by manipulating body weight and the time interval of alcohol consumption during a specific time (Turner, Bauerle, & Shu, 2004). Both methods have inherent limitations due to self-reported data. For example, participants may intentionally over or under report their alcohol consumption levels based on social desirability. Some may exaggerate the number of drinks consumed to impress, while others may be embarrassed and minimize their consumption rates. Recall bias occurs when survey respondents are intoxicated and cannot accurately remember their consumption rates, creating another limitation associated with self-reported data. A more valid and objective assessment involves measuring Blood (breath) Alcohol Concentration, or BrAC via a breathalyzer. Indeed, BrAC research with college students constitutes an emerging line of scientific inquiry (Thombs, Dodd, Pokorny, Omli, O'Mara, Webb, Lacaci, & Werch, 2008; Beirness, Foss, & Vogel-Sprott, 2004; Thombs, Olds, & Snyder, 2002). Thombs and colleagues (2003) examined the BrACs rates of college students returning to the residence halls after a night of socializing. Results indicated more than two thirds of the respondents were "heavy episodic drinkers" (i.e., consumed 5+/4+ drinks) (Thombs et al., 2003). However, most students who engaged in heavy episodic drinking were not legally intoxicated, suggesting the need for more accurate alcohol assessments when researching college student alcohol use.

The current research involved addressing the following research questions: (a) what is the average BrAC rate among college football fans while tailgating before the game; (b) do participants accurately assess their own BrAC rates and those of fans tailgating on game day; and (c) what percentage of fans' support permitting alcohol use in select tailgating areas on game day.



Participants included college students, alumni, and visiting fans, who did not consider themselves students or alumni, at a large urban university from the Midwest. Table 1 illustrates the majority of participants were Caucasian (91% n = 486), male (64%; n = 345), with a mean age of 28 (SD = 12.81). The majority of participants were 21 years of age or older (83%, n = 446), while 17% (n = 90) acknowledged they were under the legal drinking age. Undergraduates (47%; n = 249) comprised the largest group of participants, followed by alumni (19%; n = 99), and visiting fans (19%; n = 103). More than one quarter (28%, n = 383) of the participants belonged to a Greek sorority or fraternity. Five hundred thirty-six of 599 participants completed this assessment generating a response rate of 89%.


A one-page, 19-item survey was utilized for this investigation. Three experts in the field of alcohol and other drug prevention reviewed the instrument for face and content validity. Five questions inquired about demographics, three questions assessed illegal intoxication rate to drive for someone under the age of 21 equals less than 0.02 mL/L. Another item asked participants if they supported (yes/no response options) designating tailgating areas in which alcohol consumption was legal. Overall, the anonymous survey took approximately three to five minutes to complete. Upon completion of the instrument, each participant was asked to blow into a United States Department of Transportation approved AlcoScan AL-9000 breathalyzer. A member of the research team recorded the results from the breathalyzer onto the survey and placed the completed form in a sealed container.


Researchers employed a time-series research design for this study collecting data at each of the University's five home football games. The first game of the year was nationally televised, while the second home game included the University's homecoming weekend festivities. The first and last home games were played on Friday nights starting at 9:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., respectively. The middle three home games were played on Saturdays starting at 7:00 p.m. Weather conditions throughout the season were stable with the exception of becoming colder and darker earlier as the season continued. Student volunteers in various health professions at the graduate and undergraduate level assisted with data collection. All volunteers were required to complete an inservice on how to use the breathalyzer and administer the survey. Research volunteers were divided into four teams of at least two people each and collected data at various tailgating areas on campus. Researchers dressed in specially designed t-shirts identifying themselves as part of the "alcohol research team" so they could be easily recognized in a crowd. Data collection began two hours prior to and commenced at kick-off of each game. The Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved this research initiative, and the University Police Department agreed not to interfere with the data collection procedures as long as none of the participants was posing an immediate threat to themselves or others.

Utilizing a convenience sample, research members indiscriminately approached fans at popular tailgating areas on campus and asked for their consent after a brief description of the study was provided. As outlined in the IRB protocol, any participant who was too intoxicated to understand or follow directions was not permitted to participate in this research endeavor. Overall, fans, especially college students, were eager to participate in this line of scientific inquiry, and no subject approached was too intoxicated to participate. The 11% that did not participate did so under their own volition. Upon providing consent, participants were asked to rinse their mouths with water and swallow prior to using the breathalyzer to eliminate smoke and/or alcohol from their breaths. Participants first completed the brief survey and then blew into the breathalyzer. Researchers notified participants of their BrAC results immediately after taking the breathalyzer. Participants subsequently received a blood alcohol concentration card and were provided information concerning their legal and health risks. Participants at high-risk, BrAC [greater than or equal to] 0.08 mL/L (volume of alcohol per volume of exhaled breath), were instructed not to drive home, to quit drinking or minimize their alcohol consumption and were given information concerning safe transportation. Participants with lower BrAC rates were advised to be cautious with their alcohol consumption. The procedures implemented in this study were adapted from Thombs and colleagues (2004), and the research team diligently adhered to the manufacturer's instructions for the AlcoScan AL-9000, the breathalyzer model used for this study.

Data Analysis

Data analysis included the use of Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 16.0. Descriptive statistics such as means, standard deviations, and percentages were calculated to describe the demographic characteristics of the respondents, including BrAC rates (for those who consumed alcohol) and support for a policy designating tailgating areas permitting alcohol consumption. A paired-samples t-test was conducted to determine if statistically significant differences existed between participants' recorded and self-assessed BrAC rates. Another one-sample t-test was performed to assess participants' perception of the percentage of fans whose BrAC was above the legal limit for driving ([greater than or equal to] 0.08 mL/L) compared to the actual results obtained from breathalyzer tests. A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was administered to assess the different BrAC rates among the various demographic groups who were tailgating.


Approximately 90% (n = 466) of the sample consumed alcohol during the two hour tailgating session prior to the game, yielding a mean BrAC of 0.054 mL/L (SD = 0.046). Figure 1 illustrates that the mean BrAC rates decreased after the third football game. However, in the final game, BrAC rates approached that of the season opener. BrAC rates were highest for the opening game (nationally televised), 0.061 mL/L (SD = 0.054), and for homecoming, 0.067 mL/L (SD = 0.052), while lowest for the final two games of the season were 0.031 mL/L (SD = 0.032) and 0.040 mL/L (SD = 0.031), respectively.

Table 1 illustrates a comparison of BrAC rates across groups. An ANOVA revealed different BrAC rates existed among those tailgating with undergraduates garnering the highest BrAC rates at 0.061 mL/L (SD = 0.050). The ANOVA was significant, F(2, 455) = 7.43, p = 0.001. The independent variable, student status, included three levels: undergraduate, graduate, and non-student. The dependent variable was the BrAC level obtained from the breathalyzer. The Tukey HSD post hoc procedure found statistically significant differences between undergraduates and non-students (p = 0.001), but not between undergraduate and graduate students. An independent-samples t-test indicated (t = 2.143, df = 461, p = 0.03) that males had higher BrAC rates, 0.057 mL/L (SD = 0.046) than females, 0.047 mL/L (SD = 0.047). In addition, approximately, 85% (n = 457) of the sample supported designating a select number of tailgating areas where alcohol consumption would be legal.

Figure 2 reveals that the average BrAC rate was 0.054 mL/L; however, when participants were asked to estimate their own BrAC levels, they overestimated their levels (0.072 mL/L). A paired-samples t-test was used to compare means between the self estimated and recorded BrAC results via the breathalyzer. Results showed a statistically significant difference between these two variables (t = 4.166, df = 471, p <0.000). Further, Figure 3 demonstrates that nearly 20% of the sample population was above the legal threshold for driving a motor vehicle (0.08 mL/L). However, when participants were asked to estimate the overall percentage of fans who were intoxicated, they incorrectly guessed that 53% were above the illegal limit to drive ([greater than or equal to] 0.08 mL/L), an overestimate of nearly 2.5 times. The one-sample t-test revealed a statistically significant difference between these two variables (t = 21.398, df = 534, p <0.001).





This research examined the drinking behavior of college football fans and assessed perceptions regarding game day drinking behavior. This study utilized a customized survey instrument administered to fans tailgating before home college football games for an entire season. Researchers obtained data regarding game day drinking behaviors from college students, alumni, visiting fans, tailgating and home fans. The results indicate drinking on game day was common with only 10% of participants abstaining from alcohol. The results support the need for campuses to design specific game day related interventions given that approximately 20% of participants were above the illegal limit ([greater than or equal to] 0.08 mL/L) to drive before the game started. The overall BrAC rates were highest for the first nationally televised home game, and for the homecoming game. As the season progressed, the BrAC rates decreased.

Two examples of misperceived alcohol use occurred in this study: the participants' estimation of their own personal BrAC and the estimated percentage of other college football fans who were intoxicated. Consistent with Bullers and Ennis' research (2006), when participants were asked to estimate their own levels of intoxication, they overestimated their personal BrAC. Indeed, participants perceived that their levels of intoxication were significantly higher (0.072 mL/L) than the results obtained with the breathalyzer (0.054 mL/L). In addition, participants may have miscalculated their BrAC rates because of the strong alcohol expectancies associated with game day (Glassman et al., manuscript in development). In conjunction with these game day alcohol related expectancies, college football fans also assume drunken behavior is the norm.

In fact, participants in this study perceived that 53% of all fans were intoxicated. In contrast, based on the present sample, only 20% were over the legal limit for driving (0.08 mL/L). It is not surprising that students and other fans misjudged the BrAC rates of others; the preponderance of research evidence suggests that college students consistently overestimate the number of drinks their peers consume (Graham, Marks, & Hansen, 1991; Hansen & Graham, 1991; Perkins, 2003; Perkins & Berkowitz, 1986; Prentice & Miller, 1993). However, this was the first study to assess BrAC rates rather than number of drinks in examining this predictive norm. Past research indicates that, when individuals perceive high rates of alcohol consumption within their environment, they are in turn more likely to consume higher rates of alcohol, holding all other variables constant (Perkins, 2003). Education and policy development represent two avenues to curb these potentially high risk behaviors. Acceptable strategies will vary across each individual institution and therefore several approaches will be addressed.

To help resolve these issues, students and other college football fans may benefit from education on blood alcohol concentration as well as from social norms interventions. Those who choose to drink may benefit from fundamental information on what a standard drink includes, how to interpret BAC levels, and laws regarding BrAC levels as they relate driving and underage drinking. Further, providing drinkers with harm reduction strategies may help reduce the negative consequences associated with consuming alcohol, for example, eating before you drink, monitoring the number of drinks you consume, alternating alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic drinks, accessing safe transportation, drinking slowly, avoiding shots and drinking games (Marlett, Baer, Kivlahan, Dimeff, Larimer, Quigley, Somers, & Williams, 1998). This information may be dispersed widely by mailings, advertisements, websites, and action by athletic departments. Further, students and fans in general overestimated the percent of tailgaters who were legally intoxicated. These misperceptions contribute to a culture that normalizes and perpetuates excessive alcohol use. Correcting these inaccuracies, through social norm campaigns and other educational efforts, may result in decreased alcohol consumption (Dejong et al., 2006; Perkins, 2003).

However, it is unlikely that education alone will reduce the high rates of alcohol consumption (National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, 2002) that occur on game day; policy changes are also relevant. One potential incremental solution, to minimize excessive drinking associated with tailgating, may be to limit the number of locations on campus where alcohol is permitted on game day. This would allow police to concentrate their enforcement efforts, which cannot be understated, given limited resources and the large number of fans who frequent campus during sporting events. Ironically, an open container policy prohibits alcohol use anywhere outdoors at most campuses including the one in the present study. However, based on our previous experiences in the field of college health, tradition, popularity, politics, and financial implications (e.g., donations from alumni) are possible explanations for this policy not being adequately enforced, if enforced at all on game days. Consequently, students and others receive mixed messages suggesting that, when the stakes are high, rules or at least the enforcement of them wane. For example, it is difficult to imagine any other time, other than game day, when it would be okay to drink alcohol in a campus parking lot.

It is no secret that tailgating with alcohol occurs on college campuses across the country on game day. However, completely banning alcohol use on game day is currently not perceived to be a realistic option for many universities. Therefore, restricting access may represent a reasonable compromise. In the present study, when fans were asked if they supported designating specific locations on campus where alcohol use is permitted on game day, the overwhelming majority, approximately 85%, indicated they did. Certainly, many fans would prefer this policy to no alcohol use permitted while tailgating. In order to safeguard students, universities may require that only individuals ages 21 and older be allowed into tailgating areas that permit alcohol consumption. Moreover, a third party vendor with server training (education to reduce incidences of over serving alcohol) could provide or serve alcohol to fans of legal age to help minimize over consumption among visibly intoxicated individuals. However, this recommendation involves ethical and legal considerations which undoubtedly vary from institution to institution.

Another policy effort worthy of serious consideration involves restricting tailgating times before sporting events. In 2009, the National Football League (NFL) recommended limiting tailgating to 3.5 hours prior to kick off (USA Today, November 19, 2009). Perhaps the National Collegiate Athletic Association and/or the various conferences (e.g., Big Ten) that constitute the NCAA should adopt this recommendation. However, without individual universities and community coalitions taking the lead on these prevention related issues, it is unlikely any other governing body will take action.

Several limitations exist within this study, therefore, findings must be interpreted with caution. First, this research was conducted at a large urban university in the Midwest. Thus, the results may not be reflective of other schools. However, anecdotal evidence suggests excessive drinking occurs on game days at most institutions with Division I sports programs. Second, because a significant percentage of participants were under the influence of alcohol, the response validity to the survey questions may have been compromised in certain instances. However, no one who could not follow directions or answer questions was allowed to participate in the study. Fortunately, this protocol did not need to be enacted. Third, the survey questions were based on self-reports which inherently include bias. For example, individuals were questioned while tailgating, thus, social desirability may have influenced how they responded to various questions. However, previous research indicates self-report data are commonly used to obtain health information and are generally considered valid (Embree & Whitehead, 1991; Midanik, 1988; Cooper, Sabel, & Sobell 1981). Fourth, the BrAC measure, while more objective than self-reported data, should also be interpreted carefully. The breathalyzer data occurred at a single point in time, and it is possible the BrAC rates increased as game time approached. Thus, breathalyzer tests conducted two and half hours prior to the game possibly lowered the overall mean average. In addition, response bias may have occurred. Due to the nature of the topic, people who were not consuming alcohol may have been more reluctant to participate or not approached as frequently. Finally, because of the naturalistic setting for this research (tailgating areas on campus), it was not feasible to use random selection as a way to invite participation; thus, the generalizablity of this research represents another limitation. However, the large number of participants in this study and the repeated measures implemented during an entire home football season added rigor and credibility to the findings. In addition, supplemental research conducted in a naturalistic setting found no significant difference between data obtained from a convenience sample compared to a randomly selected sample (O'Mara et al., 2009). Conversely, a randomized design merits consideration in future research.

This study represents the first endeavor to measure college football fans' BrAC rates for an entire season. The results reveal that the large majority of fans consume alcohol when they tailgate, many to a degree that would legally prohibit them from driving. From an altruistic and risk management perspective, university officials need to ensure that sporting events and the related activities that accompany them, such as tailgating, are as safe as possible. Future research efforts should assess whether restricting alcohol consumption to a limited time period and number of tailgating areas result in less alcohol consumption and fewer alcohol related incidents.


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Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Tavis Glassman, Ph.D., MPH, CHES, Assistant Professor, The University of Toledo, 2801 W. Bancroft St., MS 119, Toledo, OH 43606-3390, Telephone: (419) 530-2742, Fax: (419) 5304759, email:

Tavis Glassman, Ph.D., MPH, CHES

Robert Braun, MPH, CHES

Diana M. Reindl, M.A.


Aubrey Whewell, MPH

The University of Toledo

Participant Demographics Compared to Recorded Blood Alcohol
Concentration Fall 2009

Characteristic      n    Mean BAC   Std. Deviation      P

Student Status *                                     0.001
   Undergraduate   201    0.061         0.050
   Graduate         40    0.059         0.031
   NonStudent      200    0.045         0.042

Gender *                                             0.033
   Male            316    0.057         0.046
   Female          147    0.047         0.047

Age                                                  0.773
   Over 21         414    0.054         0.047
   Under 21         52    0.052         0.046

Greek Status                                         0.171
   Yes             112    0.058         0.047
   No              346    0.051         0.045

* The mean difference is significant at the .05 level
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