What began as an unfortunate series of events for the Oregon Ducks may lead to big changes to NCAA policy regarding how it conducts random drug tests.
Right before their appearance at the Rose Bowl, the Ducks were subjected to a round of random drug-testing, as is policy for all Rose Bowl and championship events. Unfortunately, two players, freshman wide receiver Darron Carrington and senior running back Ayele Ford, tested positive for cannabis and were suspended from playing. This barred the two from participating in the first College Football Playoff National Championship game against Ohio State, which ended with Ohio winning 42-20.
Darron Carrington, Sr., father of the Oregon wide receiver, says that his son didn’t actually smoke any marijuana prior to the test. He claims his son only inhaled second-hand smoke from others who were smoking in the same room, stating, “It’s unfortunate that it was such a high price to pay for something like that.”
With the loss of two of their star players and losing the championship game, the Oregon Ducks didn’t end the 2014 season in a very cheerful mood. But now things are starting to look up, not only for the Ducks but for the NCAA as a whole. Carrington and Ford’s suspension began to draw attention to the specifics of the NCAA drug-testing policy, which can best be described as a zero-tolerance policy.
Pete Thamel, of Sports Illustrated, looked into the policy and found that the minimum threshold that the NCAA tests for when it comes to marijuana is the strictest amongst most other professional sports organizations. Thamel reports that the NCAA’s minimal testing threshold for marijuana is at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, 10 times higher than the threshold for the MLB. Even the World Anti-Doping Agency, which is responsible for drug-testing for the Olympics, has set its minimum threshold at 150 nanograms. In order to reach this level, an expert is quoted saying that a player would have to be a “’pretty dedicated cannabis consumer to test positive.”
A few days after the Championship game, Brian Burnsed of NCAA.org reported that the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports has presented an informal proposal at a meeting in Indianapolis to change the focus of the drug-testing procedures. Burnsed explains that the new reforms will actually move away from testing for recreational drugs; instead the committee claims it will focus on test for performance enhancing drugs and educating players on recreational drugs and the consequences that can follow if taken.
The new plan being discussed will focus on two steps: “first, strengthen the NCAA drug-testing program for performance-enhancing substances; second, development of a shared model of deterrence for recreational drug use (e.g. marijuana, alcohol and opiates) with a focus on educational programs instead of a traditional testing model.”
The new drug-testing model for the NCAA is much more progressive than the current model, which could be due to the quickly expanding market of medical marijuana.
“The NCAA has tested student-athletes for banned substances, including recreational drugs, at championship events since 1986,” Burnsed said. “But student-athlete drug use survey data indicate drug testing at championships hasn’t deterred recreational drug use: Alcohol use has dipped only slightly in recent years, marijuana use has remained relatively stable and prescription opiate use has grown.”
It’s clear that the current drug-testing policy for the NCAA is not only ineffective in deterring players from taking recreational drugs, but has been so for almost 30 years. This new model will not only focus more on substances that could create an unfair advantage in the game, but will also create educational programs for the students that will educate them on recreational drugs.
Despite the current policies being a possible factor in his team losing the championship, Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich claims that “If something is illegal, it should be illegal all the time. We played a couple guys throughout the year that are arrested for something, and then they play the next week.”
Despite how it has affected himself and his team, Helfrich is looking to change the now clearly debunked policies that the NCAA has in place. In the next few months, the NCAA Sport Science Institute staff will be working to develop and finalize a new policy that may revolutionize how controlled substances are treated in collegiate sports.
Do you think the current drug testing policy is fair? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments.