At the first sign that his school might have a steroid problem, athletic director Bob Copeland of Waterloo University in Canada decided unbiased vigilance was the best option, even though he knew he'd hear plenty of complaints.
At great cost — both monetarily and in the court of public opinion — Copeland had every member of the football team tested for performance-enhancing drugs. Nine players tested positive. The AD responded by shutting down the program for a year, a move that brought a huge outcry but also triggered a renaissance of sorts for drug testing in college sports in Canada.
In the 12 months since the biggest steroid scandal in Canadian college sports, Copeland has became a well-known figure in the anti-doping business, writing opinions and essays on the subject and speaking at the occasional gathering of North American sports administrators.
And the number of U.S. athletic directors who've reached out to him for advice?
"Not one," he said. "I can tell you that I've reached out to a few in a collegial manner, but haven't had any response. It's disappointing. But I'm not necessarily surprised."
Copeland's experience falls in line with observations drawn from an Associated Press survey of drug-testing policies in college sports, which showed an overall lack of clarity, unity, consistency or integrated strategy between schools, conferences and the NCAA in the effort to keep performance-enhancing drugs out of the games.
While the NCAA runs an umbrella program, the conferences vary widely in what they do to augment the NCAA rules. Some, such as the Big Ten, have extensive guidelines that closely mirror the NCAA's. Others have nothing and say they simply adhere to the NCAA, which also tests athletes at postseason events it sanctions, including this week's Final Four.
At the individual school level, the AP sent out requests for information about drug-testing policies at 76 universities — 73 to the six biggest conferences and three more to mid-major teams that were ranked in the Top 25 in the Feb. 28 AP men's basketball poll — and received responses from 51
Some policies — such as the one at Florida — were stringent, kicking athletes who test positive for steroids into Phase IV of its sanction program, which calls for missing at least 50 percent of the season. Others barely mentioned performance-enhancing drugs. Not a single school's drug policy submitted to the AP read exactly the same as another — even within conferences and states — and the majority appeared much more concerned with curbing recreational-drug use than steroids.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said his school, which runs one of the biggest athletic departments in the country, is comfortable with its program.
"We have a very comprehensive and extensive drug-testing protocol that reinforces one of our values, being a drug-free department," Brandon said. "It's a very complete test that covers not only recreational drugs, but also steroids and the misuse of prescription drugs and other drugs deemed illegal or as performance-enhancers by the NCAA. Our student-athletes and coaches know we don't just talk the talk, we walk the walk."
Like those at many schools, Michigan's drug-testing policy explicitly states it is used to augment other efforts and to help prepare athletes for testing by the NCAA and the conference — in this case, the Big Ten.
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. The NCAA, which boasts in commercials that it sanctions about 400,000 athletes across all divisions, administered about 11,000 tests in 2008-09, the most recent period for which statistics are available. Beginning in August, a new NCAA rule will require all Division I schools to designate a staff member who can answer questions about dietary supplements and banned drugs.
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