Thursday, July 12, 2007
Printed in bold letters on page two of a booklet detailing the NCAA's drug-testing program is the sentence "Ignorance is no excuse.''
It's a message the nation's largest governing body for collegiate athletics has spent the past two years rigorously enforcing at its 1,200 institutions. From conducting year-round random drug testing which hands out stiff penalties for those who test positive for any of the 100-plus drugs on its banned substance list (one-year suspension and loss of eligibility for the first offense; revocation of a scholarship for a second offense) to the institutions constantly admonishing their student-athletes about the dangers of anabolic steroids, street drugs and even stimulants, the NCAA and its members have tried to ensure a level field of competition.
A report released last July by the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports showed positive tests for steroids have decreased 47 percent in the period from 2000 to 2005. Although there have been cases such as last year when Savannah State's football program was placed on three years probation for, among other things, a former assistant coach being accused of selling steroids to players on the team, the NCAA has managed to escape the steroid scrutiny that has cast a dark shadow over Major League Baseball.
South Carolina State University has also avoided such problems through a combination of educating the student-athletes about the drug policy and incessant vigilance on the part of the coaches in all 17 NCAA-sanctioned sports to keep their players aware of taking anything which could jeopardize their scholarship.
"I haven't really seen a problem," SC State head athletics trainer Craig Harward said. "We've basically been clear with the NCAA. We haven't had any positives that I know of, even when I was here in the early '90's and since I've been here since 2003. We've been proactive in policing ourselves and using it as a deterrent."
Such proactive measures include posting the NCAA's list of banned drugs inside the locker rooms and weightroom at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium. The school also has its own in-house drug policy, currently under revision according to Harward, which differs from the NCAA's year-round testing, conducted by the National Center for a Drug Free Sport, by placing more of an emphasis on counseling and community service.
Mimicking other Division I programs like the University of Oregon (whose state constitution considers random testing an infringement on individual rights and is more lenient than the NCAA's testing policy), SC State's current policy requires a first-time offender to sit out a week of practice, miss one game and attend five counseling sessions. A second transgression would then result in a one-year suspension.
This is possible, according to Harward, because institutions who hold their own test do not have to report violators to the NCAA.
SC State especially makes it a point to advise their student-athletes to stay away from all supplements whose ingredients may contain drugs banned by the NCAA. Most recently, Harward said SC State has contracted with Carolina Nutrition Consultants, a Columbia company whose expertise is helping student-athletes adopt drug-free diets.
"A lot of (student-athletes) before they take supplements, do come and ask us," he said. "We don't recommend as a university, the NCAA basically kind of pushes it, but we don't recommend any supplements for any athletes. We have a contract out with a nutritional consultant that comes to our university and talks to our athletes."
Inside the weightroom, SC State strength and conditioning coach Thomas Stallworth preaches the same mantra about supplements during his daily workouts. A former linebacker at the University of Tennessee from 1997 to 2001, Stallworth witnessed firsthand as many as nine former teammates work their way into the NFL without taking the ''easy way'' by using performance-enhancing drugs.
In addition, Stallworth said many athletes make the mistake of exclusively relying on supplements in place of a proper diet and that also creates problems.
"There's so much out there now as far as supplements," Stallworth said. "There are so many different types of supplements now that everybody can pretty much try something different. You look at a football team, the number of guys on a football team, somebody might try something different and then, at that point, they start comparing themselves. 'Okay, well he has the greatest results as far as putting on weight or he's the most defined, toned-up individual or he's the strongest.'
"You can't really change (young people's) minds on it nowadays. It's almost a reflection of a generation where everybody is looking for the easy way and the fastest way possible without the old-school method of hard work and diligent work."
During his five seasons as Bulldogs' head football coach, Oliver "Buddy" Pough said he's seen just one instance of a player failing the random NCAA test, and that wasn't steroid-related. Like Stallworth, he believes student-athletes who use steroids are seeking a ''shortcut.''
From his experience on the high school and college level, however, Pough said those athletes who utilize performance-enhancing drugs do not necessarily perform as well as those who are naturally strong but live off a diet of junk food, chicken, beans and rice.
"Those guys (who take steroids) don't have the natural ability to have the strength or the size of some of those guys or backs, so they try create something artificially that they don't seem to be able to create in their normal actual routine," he said. "Those guys who tend to be able to have the right type of size, who run pretty good, who have pretty good strength, will let well enough be."
More than the message, Stallworth said the real-life tragedies ranging from the late Lyle Alzado (who blamed steroid use for his health problems later in life) to most recently wrestler Chris Benoit, and the success stories of programs like Hampton, who has relied more on talent than any artificial assistance resonates with the student-athletes. To their credit, Stallworth said student-athletes at SC State generally see the big picture in terms of their future health.
"I always make a point to harp on our guys that if you put the hard work in, it ultimately pays off," Stallworth said. "There's no shortcut to success."
Senior Sports Writer Thomas Grant Jr. can be reached by email at email@example.com or by office phone at 533-5547.
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