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CSMAS recommends drug-testing penalty change

Committee seeks more consistent application in penalizing PED use

The NCAA’s penalties for performance-enhancing drugs have intended to have a straightforward application: Student-athletes who test positive should lose one of their four seasons of eligibility.

The application of that penalty, however, hasn’t always resulted in a consistent outcome.

So during its Dec. 10-11 meeting in Indianapolis, the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports proposed a change to the language of the legislated penalty that it believes will improve the consistency of its application while maintaining its original intent.

As currently written, the rule can result in inconsistent penalty lengths, depending on when a student-athlete tests positive. For example, a student-athlete who tests positive before or after their season would lose one season of eligibility, as the rule intended.

But what if the student-athlete tested positive during their season? The current penalty could cost that student closer to two seasons of eligibility, forcing them to miss the remainder of the season in which they tested positive and requiring them to forfeit an additional season. When CSMAS identified that inconsistent application, it determined it was not the original intent of the drug-testing penalty.

After reviewing data and various scenarios earlier this year, the committee determined that clarifying the rule to ensure student-athletes lose just one season of eligibility regardless of when they test positive would improve consistency and better align the rule with its original intent.

“The intent was to be fair. But this makes the application of it fair,” said CSMAS chair Dr. Doug Ramos, the team physician for Creighton. “As we considered what happens to these athletes, our ultimate intent is to have them remain in school and get them through the process, but also maintain fair competition. And when a student-athlete would have to sit out maybe as much as two years if they tested positive at the start of the season, that was not in the best interest of the athletes not only from a health and safety perspective and mental health, but it was not beneficial from an academic perspective, too.”

Because CSMAS cannot introduce legislative proposals on its own, its recommendation for the rule clarification will be forwarded to relevant committees in each division, which can sponsor the proposal next year.

Drug-testing penalty clarified

The CSMAS also recommended a legislative amendment in Divisions II and III to clarify that the substitution of urine in a drug test is considered tampering with the sample, which carries a two-year penalty.

As it is currently written, it is not clear in the legislation’s wording whether such an action is considered manipulation or tampering. It’s an important distinction: Manipulating a sample carries a one-year penalty. But tampering with a sample brings the longer penalty.

“The committee agreed that substitution was a form of tampering, and we considered that to be a very serious offense, and it has a significant penalty,” Ramos said. “We saw that, in the interest of fairness and competition, as a fairly egregious action to attempt to tamper with the sample.”

Because of differences in their legislative processes, the change to the rule has already been made in Division I. In Divisions II and III, the governance bodies in those divisions — likely the Management Councils or Presidents Councils — will consider CSMAS’ recommendation at upcoming meetings and decide whether to sponsor it as legislation.

New subcommittees formed

The CSMAS formed three new subcommittees to further explore developing topics.

One subcommittee will explore the health and safety aspects of expanding the seasons of competition model adopted by Division I football earlier this year. That model allows student-athletes to play in up to four games and still take a redshirt year to retain their full four years of eligibility. The subcommittee will explore what, if any, data are available to evaluate the health and safety implications of expanding that model to other sports.

 A second subcommittee will analyze medical personnel trends in athletics departments, exploring questions raised by the membership regarding developments in hiring qualifications for strength and conditioning professionals, and requirements for countable strength and conditioning coaches on the sidelines of FBS football games.

A third subcommittee will review data gathered from the 2017-18 Division I health and safety survey that is a part of the Institutional Performance Program and that requires further discussion for CSMAS.