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By Gary Brown
A discussion among about three dozen Division III presidents and chancellors August 11-12 about whether to implement an academic-year-round drug-testing program revealed support for a more holistic approach with education, rather than testing, as the centerpiece.
Reacting to the results of a two-year pilot study the Presidents Council authorized in 2007, members of the Presidents Council and the division’s Presidents and Chancellors Advisory Group endorsed a broader approach on substance abuse (including performance-enhancing drugs, street drugs and alcohol) that does not single out student-athletes for testing.
Division III currently conducts drug testing only at its championships; however, individual schools may conduct testing throughout the year at their own expense. Divisions I and II conduct year-round testing for their student-athletes in several sports, but Division III has declined periodic queries from the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports about conducting a year-round program of its own.
Division III presidents believed the findings from the pilot, which was conducted in response to the latest competitive-safeguards committee recommendation, did not appear to justify the establishment of a national testing program on the basis of either competitive equity or student-athlete well-being. But the study did give presidents a baseline from which to strategize.
To frame the discussion, presidents reacted to the following questions:
Presidents emphasized that their support for education more than testing doesn’t minimize the importance of deterring drug use as a division-wide concern, but the issue became murky for them when they explored what to include in the testing, and perhaps more importantly, how to address what they see as a bigger issue on their campuses – alcohol abuse by the general student body (including student-athletes).
The presidents also wrestled with testing student-athletes – particularly for street drugs – when the same testing isn’t conducted for the student body. To them, that conflicted with the Division III philosophy and the division’s strategic-positioning platform.
They also didn’t see enough evidence in the pilot study to warrant devoting significant resources to what could be an expensive national testing program when resources could be allocated more effectively to target local needs.
While the presidents weren’t necessarily persuaded by one factor over another, all of the factors collectively influenced a desire to address substance abuse in general with a broader, more educational brush.
“That doesn’t mean presidents reject testing as an effective deterrent,” said Presidents Council chair Jim Harris of Widener University. “On the contrary, we support the current championships-testing program. But based on the pilot, and on what we know to be other issues on our campuses related to alcohol use, we believe resources would be more appropriately allocated to education rather than year-round testing.
“The health and well-being of the student-athlete is a priority of the Presidents Council,” Harris said, “and that is why we support the continuation of the current drug-testing model, the enhancement of educational programming and the development of a model alcohol program that would benefit Division III, the whole Association and the entire student body on all of our campuses.”
Harris said the division would seek proven educational programming, noting that current generations of student-athletes already have been raised with abundant messaging that warns against alcohol and drug abuse. Thus, more creative or engaging programming might be in order. He also noted that the division would seek partnerships with student affairs professionals in the development of educational content and best practices.
The educational approach aligns with the division’s strategic-positioning platform in that institutions could tailor it to the entire student body and not necessarily limit it to student-athletes, Harris said.
The presidents also supported the idea of providing funds that institutions could access to meet their own specific deterrence needs (Option No. 4), but they did not discuss the details of such an approach. The Division III Management Council and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee also supported that option during meetings earlier this summer.
Full membership discussion of options, including any recommended by the governance structure, is scheduled for the 2011 Convention. A final membership vote on drug-testing proposals, if necessary, would occur at the 2012 Convention.