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As sports fans of all ages switch on television sets to watch the NCAA basketball tournament, they have seen and may yet see several upsets and surprises. But one thing remains constant - the seemingly endless barrage of TV beer ads.

Most of the ads are similar. They show young adults, all of them happy and attractive, having a good time. And the good times are centered around beer. The message, although unspoken, is that popularity and fun and acceptance and beer are all part of the same package.Yet beer is one of the most abused drugs by young people. It is most frequently the factor in youthful drunken-driving related traffic accidents. It has all the negatives associated with alcohol.

Is having beer advertising heavily associated with collegiate sports sending the right message to young people? Athletics imply dedication, self-discipline, restrictive diets, training, clean living and abnegation - hardly the image associated with beer drinking.

In the last year or two, the NCAA - the official organization of college sports - has been questioning the propriety of beer being involved in TV broadcasts of college games.

There is a distinct sense of unease about this involvement, particularly given the quantity of the ads. A similar, perhaps even tighter linkage exists with broadcasts of professional sports. But pro sports are a business, and there is little that can be done about that, except perhaps take some of the effectiveness out of such ads by making them carry surgeon general warnings, much the same as the warning labels in printed cigarette advertising.

But collegiate athletics are a different matter. The NCAA certainly is not anxious for beer and college sports to be regarded as Siamese twins - always seen together. Still, that seems to be happening.

Certainly, there is money involved in such ads and the NCAA and individual schools get a share of that as payment from TV networks for the rights to broadcast games. But as the Knight Commission noted in this week's report on reforms needed in athletics and higher education, sports-generated revenue can become a curse, a tail that wags the collegiate dog.

Colleges and universities are academic institutions, not sports franchises. At least that is the theory. As such, they should not be used as handy vehicles for selling beer.