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Steroids loom in major-college football
Question of the Day
The associate athletics director for athletic training at Iowa State, Mark Coberley, said coaches and trainers use body composition, strength data and other factors to spot suspected cheaters. Lamaak, he said, was not suspicious because he gained a lot of “non-lean” weight.
“There are a lot of things that go into trying to identify whether guys are using performance-enhancing drugs,” Coberley said. “If anybody had the answer, they’d be spotting people that do it. We keep our radar up and watch for things that are suspicious and try to protect the kids from making stupid decisions.”
There’s no evidence that Lamaak’s weight gain was anything but natural. Gaining fat is much easier than gaining muscle. But colleges don’t routinely release information on how much of the weight their players gain is muscle, as opposed to fat. Without knowing more, said Benardot, the expert at Georgia State, it’s impossible to say whether large athletes were putting on suspicious amounts of muscle or simply obese, which is defined as a body mass index greater than 30.
Looking solely at the most significant weight gainers also ignores players like Bryan Maneafaiga.
In the summer of 2004, Maneafaiga was an undersized 180-pound running back trying to make the University of Hawaii football team. Twice — once in pre-season and once in the fall — he failed school drug tests, showing up positive for marijuana use. What surprised him was that the same tests turned up negative for steroids.
He’d started injecting stanozolol, a steroid, in the summer to help bulk up to a roster weight of 200 pounds. Once on the team, where he saw only limited playing time, he’d occasionally inject the milky liquid into his buttocks the day before games.
“Food and good training will only get you so far,” he told the AP recently.
Maneafaiga’s coach, June Jones, meanwhile, said none of his players had tested positive for doping since he took over the team in 1999. He also said publicly that steroids had been eliminated in college football: “I would say 100 percent,” he told The Honolulu Advertiser in 2006.
Jones said it was news to him that one of his players had used steroids. Jones, who now coaches at Southern Methodist University, said many of his former players put on bulk working hard in the weight room. For instance, adding 70 pounds over a three- to four-year period isn’t unusual, he said.
Jones said a big jump in muscle year-over-year — say 40 pounds — would be a “red light that something is not right.”
Jones, a former NFL head coach, said he is unaware of any steroid use at SMU and believes the NCAA is doing a good job testing players. “I just think because the way the NCAA regulates it now that it’s very hard to get around those tests,” he said.
The cost of testing
While the use of drugs in professional sports is a question of fairness, use among college athletes is also important as a public policy issue. That’s because most top-tier football teams are from public schools that benefit from millions of dollars each year in taxpayer subsidies. Their athletes are essentially wards of the state. Coaches and trainers — the ones who tell players how to behave, how to exercise and what to eat — are government employees.
Then there are the health risks, which include heart and liver problems and cancer.
On paper, college football has a strong drug policy. The NCAA conducts random, unannounced drug testing and the penalties for failure are severe. Players lose an entire year of eligibility after a first positive test. A second offense means permanent ineligibility from sports.
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