By Grace Fansler: Prevention & Education Program Coordinator
The Trouble with Tailgating
During the fall, attending a college football tailgate is the highlight of many college students’ weeks. College football tailgating offers the chance for participants to enjoy delicious food, play lawn games with friends and family, and celebrate a well-defined sense of community and comradery. Different universities have rich, unique traditions associated with game day tailgates that exemplify the institution’s school spirit. Tailgate celebrations can be a lot of fun; however, a substantial part of tailgating involves football fans consuming alcohol, and this is no exception for students. A 2007 study found that college football fans, including current students, reported drinking significantly more on football game days compared to the last time they socialized and drank. Some students attend the tailgate without any intention of attending the actual sporting event, as many clubs, Greek organizations, and other student groups may set up tents at tailgates to serve alcohol and promote socializing. Whenever students are celebrating with alcohol, it is important to recognize while alcohol does not cause sexual assault, it can play a role in the perpetuation of sexual violence, or even be used to facilitate sexual violence. It is estimated that about 50% of sexual assaults on college campuses involved either the perpetrator, the victim, or both consuming alcohol.
Sexual Assault on Game Day
In a recent study from the American Economic Journal, economists Peter Siminski, Issac Swenson, and Jason Lindon, set out to further research the connection between drinking culture at football tailgates and sexual assaults on Division I campuses. Siminski, Swenson, & Lindon examined daily reports of rape to campus and local police departments over a 22-year period for 96 Division I schools.
Their analysis revealed that among 17-24 year old women football game days increased reports of rape victimization; home games increased reports by 41%, and away games increased reports by 15%.
Many of the reported offenders were also 17-24 years of age. The effect was found to be greater on “big” game days, and greater for schools with relatively prominent football teams. Researchers also showed that a similar effect is present for other crimes associated with excessive drinking i.e. DUIs, public drunkenness, disorderly contact, liquor law violations. Additionally, game outcomes where there is an upset were more likely to result in higher reports of both alcohol-related crime arrests and sexual assault, thus suggesting excessive drinking is the underlying mechanism for these student crimes.
The Price- Not Just Money
As Siminski, Swenson, and Lindon are economists they calculated the social cost of sexual violence induced by Division I football games. By social cost, they are referring to the total sum of money society has to pay, resulting from expenses accrued due to sexual assault. These expenses can include funding public services for survivors, costs for offenders’ incarceration, probation, and treatment, businesses experiencing employee absences, as well as many other healthcare-related costs. Division IA football games result in a roughly $193 million dollar social cost. Estimates for the effect of Division IAAA football games is smaller, at $29 million.
Aside from the tremendous social cost, sexual violence has a greater than purely monetary impact on survivors. Survivors of sexual violence may experience multiple short-term and long-term physical and mental disorders after an assault. This may include survivors experiencing depression, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, dissociation, sleep disorders, and numerous other debilitating conditions. Surviving a traumatic incident such as sexual assault is likely to completing alter an individual’s life. Current statistics tell us that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. While Division I football games certainly generate revenue for schools, it is time to ask, at what cost?
Siminski, Swenson, and Lindon suggest utilizing some of the billions in revenue ($10 billion in 2017) generated by Division I sports to address the rise in sexual violence associated with game days. This could be accomplished through revising alcohol-related policies on campus, investing in evidence-based prevention programming, as well as researching and providing the best methods for sexual violence prevention on college campuses. Institutions need to be held accountable for the effects of events that generate revenue when students are being put at risk. With both sexual assault and alcohol consumption being systemic issues on college campuses, it is time to evaluate traditions, such as tailgating, that perpetuate harm to students.
To learn more, here is the article published by the researchers in The News & Observer
 Glassman, T., Werch, C. E., Edessa J., & Bian, H. (2007). Alcohol-related fan behavior on college football game day. Journal of American College Health, 56(3), 255–260.
Abbey, A., Zawacki, T., Buck, P.O., Clinton, A.M., & McAuslan, P. (2001). Alcohol and sexual assault. Alcohol Res Health, 25(1):43-51.
 Lindo, J. M., Siminski, P., & Swensen, I. D. (2018). College party culture and sexual assault. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 10(1), 236–265.
 Krebs, C. P., Lindquist, C., Warner, T., Fisher, B., & Martin, S. (2007). The campus sexual assault (CSA) study: Final report. Retrieved from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdfﬁles1/nij/grants/221153.pdf