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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Four teams, four drug-testing policies.
Players at Kentucky, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Duke operated under the same rules on their road to the Final Four this season — except when it came to the frequency of their doping tests and the penalties they faced for failing.
All players fall under the umbrella of the NCAA drug-testing program, which tests urine for performance-enhancing and recreational drugs at its championship events and for PEDs during infrequent visits to campus the rest of the year. The main source of deterrence? The programs in place at individual schools.
The NCAA’s chief medical officer is among those who would like to see changes. “I think it can be improved, and I’d say it could be improved considerably,” said Brian Hainline, who was appointed to the newly created position in 2013.
There are some small changes up for consideration. However, even if those changes occur, the standards could be as varied as the 351 Division I universities.
“It would be like an international sport having one set of rules for the U.S., and another set of rules for Canada,” says Bob Copeland, who dismantled the PED-addled program at Waterloo University in Canada when he was athletic director. “Then, they all show up at the Olympics and play each other.”
Copeland is among those who call the lack of a uniform testing program in college sports a glaring blind spot for the NCAA, which tries to regulate almost everything from recruiting, to paying players, to gambling and more.
He’s not alone.
“How ironic that the NCAA has this TV contract that brings in billions of dollars for the tournament, but no consistent rules to protect the integrity of what they’re selling,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
The diffuse policies in play at the Final Four, and around the country, do have a few things in common:
— They have relatively limited lists of banned substances.
— They don’t test blood for human-growth hormone.
— They have no means of dealing with cases that don’t involve a positive test but show other evidence of drug use. That’s how Lance Armstrong and several athletes implicated in the BALCO scandal lost their records.
— Most schools don’t have an independent agency to evaluate results and mete out punishment, which can put administrators at odds with their coaching staffs and athletic departments.
The confusion over the wide-ranging drug-testing policies have had an impact on high-profile events and programs this season.
Syracuse was put on probation for five years and coach Jim Boeheim was suspended for nine games for violations that included failure to adhere to a drug-testing program that was deemed too confusing by school administrators. The NCAA recommends schools adopt their own drug policies but can then sanction schools for not following them.
Meanwhile, in January, two Oregon players were left behind for the college football title game after positive drug tests. At least one of those was for marijuana. Shortly after that, an NCAA committee recommended an overhaul of some facets of the drug-testing policy — most notably that marijuana testing on the national level be scrapped in favor of education and intervention. Alcohol and narcotics would be added to the list of recreational drugs that need to be more closely monitored.
That recommendation will likely be voted on next year.
“The takeaway from that can’t be, ‘We’re not going to test for pot,'” said Hainline, a former USADA board member who now leads the NCAA’s medical group. “It means schools have to get invested and have to be willing to carry this out. It has to happen at a grassroots level. The NCAA can’t be the police dog for alcohol and narcotics use at every campus in the country.”
Hainline is also pushing for more uniform testing policies around the country, an effort he says could come from the five biggest conferences. Of those, only the Big Ten and Big 12 have conference-wide policies. The ACC, SEC and Pac-12 leave the issue to the individual schools, though Hainline said he’s heard from those commissioners that they’d like to consider rethinking the policy.
Until that happens, teams will continue to play under different rules.
Take the teams in Indianapolis this weekend.
At Duke, the penalty for a first offense involving PEDs is the minimum of a one-year suspension. Kentucky calls for a player to miss 10 percent of his games for a first violation, but doesn’t specify between PEDs and recreational drugs. Wisconsin’s policy doesn’t differentiate between recreational drugs and PEDs, and calls for no mandatory suspension after a first offense. Michigan State calls for a 30-day suspension for PEDs.
The last two schools are both in the Big Ten, which has its own policy that calls for a year-long suspension after a first positive.
“Bottom line is, you need a common standard so you have a level playing field,” said Copeland, who now works at McLaren Global Sports Solutions on issues involving integrity in sports.
Other facets Hainline would like to see include:
— All schools have tests evaluated at labs accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
— More tests and smarter testing. Currently, the NCAA conducts more than 11,000 tests a year on Division I and II campuses (there are more than 400,000 athletes across all divisions). Hainline would like to see an increased chance that testers could show up on a campus more than once a year.
— A standard penalty of a one-year suspension for a first PED violation.
All these would help beef up a program Hainline concedes is lacking.
But the NCAA membership is typically slow-moving and reluctant to change.
“The bottom line is, clean sport and the rights of clean athletes demand it,” Tygart said. “You have to at least make an effort to make a change.”
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