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Division III Management Council rejects drug-testing proposal

The council wants marijuana testing to continue at NCAA championship events

A push to eliminate street drug testing at NCAA championship events within Division III has stalled.

Despite a recommendation from the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports that each division cease testing at championships for street drugs such as marijuana, the Division III Management Council voted to reject the proposal. The council, which convened April 13-14 in Indianapolis, overwhelmingly agreed that discontinuing testing would hinder members’ ability to deter drug use among their student-athletes.

“The Management Council feels the best thing for the health and safety of our student-athletes would be to have some sort of marijuana testing,” said Lori Runksmeier, chair of the Management Council and athletics director at New England College. “If the NCAA doesn’t do marijuana testing, it’s harder to justify it on our campuses when we think it could work there.”

The competitive safeguards committee recommended extensive changes to the NCAA’s drug-testing policies when it convened in mid-December. The committee encouraged more stringent substance abuse testing but recommended the development of a shared model of deterrence for use of recreational drugs such as marijuana, alcohol and opiates, with a focus on campus educational programs instead of a traditional testing model at national championships. Use of recreational drugs should absolutely be discouraged, the committee members said. But because they do not provide a competitive advantage, the committee is recommending the development of alternative approaches instead of testing at national championships.

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. Given that testing over nearly 30 years hasn’t been an adequate deterrent – plus the fact that college athletes who are penalized for recreational drug use by losing eligibility are more likely to drop out of school – the committee suggested the NCAA explore different approaches to discouraging recreational drugs.

The Management Council, however, wasn’t swayed by those arguments. Division III Student-Athlete Advisory Committee members on the Management Council, for instance, voiced opposition to the proposal, noting they had seen firsthand how the possibility of drug testing before championships deters use among teammates.

Though the Management Council voted against the recommendation, the discussion will continue. When the Division III Presidents Council convenes later this month, it will have an opportunity to debate the issue and decide whether the proposal should be put forward as legislation for the 2016 NCAA Convention.

Playing and practice season review

The Playing and Practice Seasons Subcommittee of the Management Council was charged at the 2015 NCAA Convention with undertaking a comprehensive review of all rules pertaining to playing and practice seasons. The Division III membership, at the behest of the Presidents Council, referred a proposal to reduce maximum contest limits in most sports back to the subcommittee for a more robust review. 

At this week’s meeting, the subcommittee reported its early work to the larger group. The subcommittee is exploring several concepts that could alter playing and practice season policies. Though it took no action, the Management Council discussed those concepts at length.

The subcommittee has identified seven areas of interest that it will examine further:

  • Maximum contest limits.
  • Nontraditional segments.
  • Contest exemptions.
  • Playing season length.
  • Out-of-season activities.
  • Minimum contest requirements.
  • Contest requirements related to selection for Division III championships.

The subcommittee has developed several basic concepts regarding potential changes to each of those categories and will rely on feedback from membership over the coming months to refine those ideas. Those concepts will be presented at the Division III Issues Forum at the 2016 NCAA Convention, and feedback garnered there will be used to shape any potential recommendations for legislation in 2017.

“The subcommittee made good progress to set up the topics that we all need to talk about. We will be able to get some issues out in front of the membership and talk with other committees,” Runksmeier said. “That was a huge help.”

Other actions:

  • The Management Council agreed to sponsor a legislative proposal from the Division III Interpretations and Legislation Committee that would lift the requirement that student-athletes must seek reinstatement if they’ve received impermissible financial aid – provided the student was unaware the aid violated rules and the school’s athletics department staff was not involved in the violation. The Presidents Council will also discuss this proposal at its April 30 meeting.
  • The Management Council approved recommendations from the Division III Championships Committee to alter the format of the 2016 Division III Women’s Basketball Championship, which will be held in conjunction with Division I and II’s championships in Indianapolis. The Council also approved an expansion of the 2016 Division III Women’s Lacrosse Championship bracket from 38 to 40 teams, based on increased sport sponsorship.
  • The Management Council voted to allow athletic trainers to receive professional development and education funding through the Division III conference grant program beginning with the 2015-16 funding cycle. Previously, career development and education funding was available to various athletics administrators, including faculty athletics representatives and sports information directors, among others, but not athletic trainers.