Homer at the Bat (season 3):
Umpire: OK, let’s go over the ground rules. You can’t leave first until you chug a beer. Any man scoring has to chug a beer. You have to chug a beer at the top of all odd-numbered innings. Oh, and the fourth inning is the beer inning.
Chief Wiggum: Hey, we know how to play softball!
There are many things about law school that law students dread. Midterms, final exams, 20-page papers, and other law students, to name a few. After a long week of school, many look forward to the most popular and successful graduate-level intramural program: softball. If only for an hour, hundreds of stressed-out law students gather on the campus’s recreational fields to forget their troubles, if only temporarily.
Unfortunately, a complete softball alcohol ban—long in the USD rulebooks but only recently strictly enforced—has left many students with a bad taste in their mouths.
The official rule, as explained by Joshua Poulsen, the graduate and law recreation and intramural coordinator, is this: “If you show up to intramurals and you are visibly intoxicated, and it is affecting you and others, we’ll ask you to leave,” he said. “And if you do it again, you’re kicked out of intramurals.”
“[The alcohol ban] was always there, it just wasn’t enforced,” Poulsen said.
As many 3Ls can recall, alcohol was tolerated on the softball fields for the 2009 academic year. Players would bring beer and mixed drinks to the games and drink on the sidelines while their teammates were up to bat. Ever since, enforcement of the ban has steadily gone up.
So why the crackdown?
“A couple of years ago, they (the school’s administration) basically found out that some students in the law school were giving some students in the undergrad some alcohol who had come down to the field,” Poulsen explained. “That basically made its way back up to the administration and that put a big ‘X’ on alcohol on the field.”
Not surprisingly, the school is worried about the safety of its students.
“The school obviously wants to promote a safe environment, and they’ve got to watch their liability as well,” Poulsen said.
USD Recreation Director Gary Becker, who administers the rules to the grad/law intramural supervisors, shares that belief.
“Potentially, people can become dangerous, inadvertently to themselves and, more importantly, to others around them,” Becker said.
“Why do I think it’s a good rule?” he added. “Because I’ve been doing this around intramurals for 30 to 40 years, and at times I’ve seen the results of people coming under the influence,” he said.
Becker pointed to an incident that occurred about four years ago. “One of the teams had been drinking before they came, and they got out on the field and started playing,” he said. “The players were getting obnoxious and it finally got to the boiling point where a couple of players got really, really mad. One of the guys ran from the home plate with a bat and began chasing a guy in the outfield.”
“I believe that if it wasn’t for the alcohol, they wouldn’t have had that particular issue,” he added.
Furthermore, Becker noted that, in previous years, beer cans were left on the fields after softball, and that USD’s collegiate sport teams use those same fields for practice the next day.
Despite the above, the commissioner of intramural softball, David Israel, doesn’t see the alcohol ban as 100 percent negative.
“In my experience over the last seven softball seasons, there hasn’t really been a change in player behavior that is alcohol-related,” Israel said.
Israel also believes that the alcohol ban has created some previously unseen negative consequences.
“In terms of safety, I think more people exhibit unsafe alcohol behavior now by getting really drunk before the game because they can’t get drunk on the field, rather than just having a beer or two on the field.”
Alcohol, not surprisingly, he said, added a certain camaraderie to the game: “People were friendlier and more social previously with the alcohol.”
In the seven seasons Israel has been a part of intramural softball (FYI: he’s a JD/MBA student), he has only seen one fight on the diamond.
“It was non-alcohol related,” he said. “They both knew exactly what they were doing and chose to fight each other. It wasn’t just two people being dumb (and drinking).”
“If it were up to me, I would bring beer back to the field because it didn’t create any problems and I think helped in a sense,” Israel said. However, after a moment, he also added, “But it (permitting alcohol) is also asking for trouble, and I understand the reason behind it (the ban).”
As a result students hankering for a swig in between outs should not hold their breath.
“Alcohol does not belong in a competitive sports environment,” Becker said. “Playing sports has its own risk as it is, so why add one more thing to potentially hurt other people?”
Becker also made it perfectly clear the university no doubt has a legal staff of its own.
“The problem is if something happens, the university is at fault,” he said.
There is at least one solution, though, according to Poulsen. If players wish to drink after the game, they can go to The Griffin (formerly O’Connell’s), located at 1310 Morena Blvd., where grad/law intramural supervisors have arranged for the bar to have specials every Thursday night to encourage law students to drink in a safer environment.