- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The NCAA runs separate drug-testing programs from the universities it governs. It also administers drastically different punishments for athletes caught violating drug-use rules.

At each school once every year, the NCAA conducts random drug tests of a small group of athletes. Separately, nearly all Division I and more than half of the Division II schools also conduct their own testing, and each school is allowed to determine the penalty for athletes who test positive.

The NCAA gives first-time offenders an immediate one-year suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. However, first-time offenders who fail drug tests administered by a school typically are only required to undergo counseling.

The NCAA permanently bans an athlete who tests positive twice, but most schools impose a short suspension for a second offense.

The schools are not required to inform the NCAA of results.

Mary Wilfert, NCAA assistant director of education outreach, said “institutional autonomy” leads to different approaches.

“Because there are a variety of institutional needs, it’s left to the institution whether testing is appropriate and how to handle that,” Wilfert said. “The institution determines what it tests for. It may have more to do with street drugs than performance drugs. It may have more to do with counseling than punishment.

“Because there is not a consistent approach, there’s not a way to approach this consistently from an NCAA perspective.”

Frank Uryasz, president of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which oversees NCAA testing, said heavy sanctions by the NCAA are necessary because an athlete’s chances of being tested are slim.

“Because we can’t test everyone, there has to be a significant sanction for a positive drug test,” he said. “Athletes will attempt to calculate the risk involved in testing positive. The likelihood of being tested is fairly small, so the way we balance that is we make sure the penalty is very stiff.”

The NCAA’s random drug-testing program was instituted in 1990 in an attempt to counter increased steroid use by football players in the 1980s. Athletes are tested for 86 steroids, stimulants, diuretics and recreational drugs such as cocaine.

The NCAA goes to every campus at least once each year and tests 18 football players and eight athletes from other teams. Names are chosen randomly by computer. Some players might be tested more than once and others never. Athletes are given little or no warning; testers sometimes appear unannounced at practice to take urine samples.

The percentage of positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs has fallen to 3 percent from 9.7 percent since the program began.

There were 103 positive tests out of 9,256 administered by the NCAA in 2002-2003, the last year reported. Anabolic steroids were found in 69 football players, including 38 in Division I.

Teams reaching postseason are eligible for further testing.

Individual school programs are more comprehensive.

The University of Maryland tests each of its 650 athletes at least once a year, often testing 60 to 70 a week. Using the same random selection process as the NCAA, some athletes are tested several times annually.

Athletes who compete nationally and internationally also can be tested by the governing bodies of individual sports. Beginning in August, the NCAA will honor suspensions by those groups.

Differences in college sanctions vary much like those in professional sports.

Major League Baseball this month announced a policy that calls for a suspension of up to 10 days for a player caught using performance enhancers. The old policy required only counseling for first-time offenders. The new policy calls for a 30-day suspension for the second offense, 60 for the third and one year for the fourth.

The NBA suspends players five games for their first offense, 10 for second and 25 each time afterward. The NFL imposes a four-game ban for first-timers, six for the second and one year for further positives. The NHL has no drug-testing policy.

Maryland’s policy is similar to that of many comparable Division I programs.

A first-time offender receives mandatory counseling at the university’s health center. A second offense prompts a two-week suspension and further counseling. Third-time offenders are dismissed from the team, though they can remain in school.

Georgetown University doesn’t have its own testing program.

Former university president Timothy Healey felt testing would involve the assumption of guilt without cause and athletes shouldn’t be singled out simply because they’re involved in athletics. Georgetown complies with NCAA testing.

Notification policies even vary. Some schools inform only the athletic director and drug-testing administrator. Others expand it to the athlete’s coach and parents.

Supporters of lighter sanctions by schools say they’re geared toward educating athletes about healthier lifestyles.

“The NCAA policy is more of a punishment for those who are cheating,” said Darryl Conway, Maryland’s assistant athletic director of sports medicine. “Ours is more of an educational process. We don’t see suspending an athlete one year doing anything for safe and healthy living.”

An NCAA survey of athletes in 2001 showed 17 percent said the threat of testing was enough to deter them from drug use. Nearly one-third said they wouldn’t use drugs anyway, and 45.5 percent didn’t answer the question. Fifty-five percent said testing deters drug usage among athletes, and 56.5 percent supported testing.

Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen said monitoring is vital for minimizing drug use.

“You have to make them accountable,” he said. “If you don’t test regularly, it will happen [more]. There was a period of time in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s when there was a problem. Everybody was getting it. I don’t think [performance enhancers are] used anymore.”

The challenge is keeping up with new drugs.

The UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, which tests samples from the NCAA, MLB, NFL and Olympic sports, constantly discovers previously unseen drugs.

Uryasz said workplace testing largely has focused on the same recreational drug use for 20 years, but the NCAA regularly adjusts its search. A spike in human growth hormone use would force blood testing for the first time.

“You never declare victory,” Uryasz said. “Drug use has gone on for centuries. We now have the tool of drug testing to keep it in check [but] the program has to evolve. Sports is a moving target. Drugs change, procedures change.”

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