Athletes vs. Banned Substances


On Oct 12., University of Florida freshman quarterback Will Grier was suspended a year after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Grier never followed proper protocol and claimed to be unaware that the substances were banned. Grier’s case is hardly an anomaly in today’s sports landscape. Whether it’s a professional sports league or the NCAA, drug testing has stripped many of their eligibility.

In 1986, the NCAA implemented their “drug-testing program,” which began testing athletes not just for drugs that could give them an advantage on the field, but for any banned substance at all, from marijuana to methamphetamine. The program eventually expanded to include other substances such as street drugs, masking agents and stimulants.

The NCAA program calls for at least one drug-testing visit to every Division I and Division II campus each school year, in which a number of athletes from various sports can be tested. Nearly 96 percent of institutions from all three divisions do random testing for all sports, resulting in a wide range of consequences. These policies vary depending on the institution, but penalties usually involve counseling and suspension from competitions or all team activities.

The University of Tampa is no different. UT randomly selects members of an athletics team to test for NCAA-banned substances.The National Center for Drug-Free Sport runs the NCAA testing program in accordance to guidelines approved by the NCAA.

The intent of this program at UT is not an attempt to ruin anyone’s life, but to ensure that all student-athletes are healthy and competing at a level playing field. If a student-athlete were to test positive for the first time, he or she has the option to declare what is called a  “safe harbor,” which is administered from the UT athletics department. This request is a one-time amnesty period where a student-athlete acknowledges that they will be subject to a drug screen no sooner than four weeks following the request.

Though, if a student-athlete at UT tests positive prior to pleading “safe harbor” or refuses to take the test, they will automatically be assigned to Drug Intervention Counseling–failure to attend will result in dismissal from the team. Their discipline does not stop there. In addition to this disciplinary action, student-athletes can receive further sanctions from the athletic department ranging from the loss of financial aid to loss of eligibility.

Prior to this procedure, each student-athlete is required to sign and return a consent form to participate in random drug testing each year. Failure to do so will result with ineligibility from UT’s athletic department. At any given time, all athletes are subject to being tested by either the school’s drug testing or by the NCAA’s.

“The major difference between the two drug tests is the governing body. “The University of Tampa Athletic Department is in charge of scheduling and contracting the drug testing company that conducts the institutional drug testing.  The NCAA is in charge of the NCAA drug tests.  The NCAA drug test generally only happens once a year around championship sites, but is not limited to that, whereas the UT drug test occurs randomly throughout the year.”

The testing methods that detect the use of banned substances may include taking urine or hair samples.  The specimens are professionally collected and coded with an appropriate number. They are then sent out to a lab for an analysis and results. Once the results are obtained, the Athletic Department is notified of the findings.

“If an athlete fails a test, assuming it is their first offense, they are notified by the drug testing company.  The sports medicine staff is then notified of the failed test.  At that point there is a meeting with the student-athlete, the head athletic trainer, and the athletic director,” Payne said.

Based on the results, the student-athletes have a few options moving forward. If a student-athlete results are positive, they may accept the terms as is and proceed with disciplinary actions, or the athlete has the option to appeal and request further testing.

“The student-athlete is required to undergo drug counseling,” Payne said. “This is in place to help make sure the student-athletes are not starting to develop improper habits with alcohol and drug use.  Once there is a failed drug test that student-athlete is continually monitored during the rest of their athletic career.”

Athletes are highly advised to come to the athletic training department with any questions they might have when it comes to taking medicine or supplements.

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