Alcohol and Swimming in College: Do They Go Together?

Feature by Michelle Berman, Swimming World intern

PISCATAWAY, New Jersey, September 27. RIGHT or wrong, whether you like it or not, alcohol is an inescapable part of the college experience, and the majority of the population at a university will wind up participating in it. It is simply a fact of life on most college campuses.

But the question for a student-athlete is "How do you set aside the ‘college experience' from your career as an athlete?"

When it comes to rules, as we all know there are always people who think they can stretch them, or just think they are lucky enough to not get caught.

Lisa Pursley, however, a former student-athlete at University of Arizona's swimming and diving program and current assistant coach at Rutgers, tells us, not everyone is quite so lucky.

"Without being specific, I know of athletes who have been suspended from practice and competition, and athletes who have been asked to leave teams because of alcohol related events involving freshmen, recruits, or travel," Pursley said.

Many alcohol issues also have occurred with recruits present.

Julie Farrell, a junior at Mount St. Mary's University as well as a former member of the swimming and diving team, is a member of one of these types of programs.

"I know when I was recruited drinking was something that was not hidden," Farrell said. "The girls immediately asked if I drank. When I said I did drink the girls were ecstatic because that was there way to relax at the end of the day when their muscles are so sore from practice. But some of recruits did not drink and when they came they felt very awkward when the girls would take them out."

Each and every program across the nation has its own rules and regulations regarding alcohol use by team members. There is no clear cut answer to the alcohol issue on campus, but some say that it has more of an impact of recruiting and team performance then many let on.

"I know that drinking was something that turned some of the recruits away," Farrell said.

This is a very real, and all-too-often occurrence.

Pursley states that alcohol has bigger affects than just issues with recruiting.

"Alcohol should be used only when you are of age and in moderation," Pursley said. "Alcohol will have a negative impact on training, performance, personal well-being and reputation if used irresponsibly.

"I think it is crucial that teams are educated and well aware of the negative effects alcohol can have on a program and on individuals," Pursley said when asked what she believes it takes to reduce alcohol issues on a team. "I also think it is important to have a team working toward a common goal where individuals will support one another and not engage in harmful activities."

Alcohol also proposes major health and performance problems. Whom do you think will perform better at practice on a Saturday morning? The person who went out the night before and drank enough for two people? Or the person who went to bed at 10 p.m. after having a healthy and energizing dinner? The answer is clearly obvious.

Alcohol has clearly become a big focus around universities and sports teams alike in recent years. Is it more prevalent now or has the problem always been there and the 24/7 news cycle just shines more light on it?

"I think that since the drinking age is higher that is why drinking seems so appealing and is talked about," Farrell said about the forbidden fruit psychology involved in drinking. "Honestly, if drinking was something that was not forbidden to minors, I don't think it would be an issue."

Many different teams and universities have dealt with alcohol issues and many involve minors. This is definitely something to think about for every program as three out of the four classes on a team (freshman, sophomore, junior) are almost all likely to be filled with minors. That means nearly the entirety of every team is under age and should not be drinking at all.

It is important for each student-athlete to consider what type of impact alcohol will have on their academic and athletic careers. While partying is definitely a large part of the college experience, a student-athlete must have their own set of priorities as it relates to alcohol.

Michelle Berman is a junior swimmer at Rutgers University who is serving as an intern at Swimming World this semester.