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Drug testing varies by school

Football practice wrapped up at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and once again senior wide receiver Grant Schwartz was informed he had been selected.

For what he hoped would be the last time, Schwartz was asked to urinate in a cup while others watched, ensuring there was no foul play.

“I probably have the record for most times drug tested,” Schwartz said. “Five years of drug testing, I’m kind of ready to be done with that, having to pee for someone every week.”

Schwartz is not alone, as Ohio State authorizes about 1,800 student-athlete drug tests each year.

The university spends $75,000 per year to test for both performance-enhancing drugs and “street drugs” such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

Since July, Aegis Laboratories, based out of Nashville, Tenn., which OSU contracts out to do its testing, has conducted almost 700 tests. The athletes are given no warning of their impending examinations.

“One of the things that we do is zero notification, which means it’s a post-practice (test) so there is no advance notice for collection purposes,” said Janine Oman, assistant athletic director of sports performance.

Penalties for positive tests for street drugs are left up to each institution and there is little consistency across universities.

“If you have a positive test for an illicit drug, our policy is … an education intervention component to that, no time loss,” Oman said. “A second positive is a two-week competitive season suspension for illicit drugs.”

The second positive also includes an educational intervention and a third positive results in at least a one-year suspension and can result in scholarship suspension.

The educational component includes assessments with a psychologist and a substance abuse counselor. These therapists recommend an intervention specific to the student-athlete and compliance is mandatory. Positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, require the same program, Oman said.

OSU’s policy for suspension is on par with comparable schools across the nation.

According to a December study by FanHouse that compiled data from 60 of the 68 schools from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 10, Big East and SEC, only six schools suspended players for a first positive test for street drugs.

Those six schools are Baylor, Cincinnati, Georgia, Kentucky, Miami and Virginia Tech.

The penalties for a second positive test vary throughout Big Ten schools from no suspension (Purdue) to one game (Indiana) to as many as 30 days (Michigan State and Wisconsin), according to the FanHouse study. Northwestern was not included in the study as a private university is “not required to respond to public records requests that would not voluntarily provide drug policy to FanHouse,” according to the study.

Though testing selection is random at OSU and other universities, one positive test removes athletes from the random pool of students and makes them subject to more regular testing. OSU also views alcohol or drug-related arrests as a positive test, Oman said.

The University of Wisconsin has a similar policy, said Steve Waterfield, associate athletic director for Student Services.

In addition to having the last say in how it penalizes positive drug tests, each institution can report the violations according to its own standards.

“We typically do not report out any specific reasons,” Oman said. “That is managed really internally with the different sports.”

Though the Big Ten leaves the reporting of positive drug tests up to the institution, the conference will offer guidance.

“If an institution asked us for a preference of how we would report it, something along the lines of ineligibility rules and the athlete is ineligible for competition,” said Kerry Kenny, Big Ten assistant director of Compliance.

MSU cornerback Chris L. Rucker, Michigan punter Will Hagerup and Minnesota basketball guard Devoe Joseph, among others, were all suspended last fall for “violating team rules.”

The exact rules violated were never reported.

The NCAA, which spends $4 million on its two types of testing, has no say in how positive tests are reported and is less focused on testing for street drugs in general, said Mary Wilfert, NCAA associate director of Health and Safety.

“We have two major drug testing programs, one which is called our year-round program … and championships (testing when) we test from the travel roster for student-athletes that are attending the championship,” Wilfert said. “That testing includes both winners of rounds and randomly selected student-athletes from those lists.”

The student-athletes are randomly generated from a computer roster and during year-round testing are tested for PEDs only. The NCAA’s championship testing is done at postseason events and includes testing of PEDs and street drugs, Wilfert said.

OSU tests for street drugs and PEDs every time it tests student-athletes.

Though there are inconsistencies in the policies, penalties for and reporting of positive street drug tests, the policies for positive PED tests are the same across all levels of testing without exception.

“The first positive is a competitive season suspension,” Oman said. “The second positive is loss of scholarship.”

PEDs are the biggest concern for OSU, the Big Ten and the NCAA.

The Big Ten, which along with the Big 12 is one of only two conferences to conduct its own testing, has only been doing so since the 2007-08 academic year. The program was mirrored after the NCAA’s, Kenny said.

Like the NCAA, the Big Ten tests year-round and at the championship level, but did not include street drugs in any testing when implementing the system.

“That was just a choice that the conference made at that time to not include that as part of the testing program,” Kenny said.

PEDs get more attention from the different testing agencies and football might be the sport with the most concern.

“Certain sports … show a higher propensity for having performance-enhancing drugs in them,” Kenny said. “Those may be on a different tier than other sports.”

OSU has determined football to be one of those sports. About one-third of all tests the university administers test football players.

“We generally are selecting sports that are higher risks according to the research that we do and football is the highest risk for steroids,” Oman said.

The extra attention on football and the size of the OSU Athletic Department (36 varsity sports make it the largest in the country) contribute to the substantial drug-testing budget.

“It’s probably higher than what you may see at other (universities),” Oman said.

In contrast to OSU’s testing budget, the University of Minnesota, which has 23 varsity sports, spends just $28,000 per year, according to director of Athletic Medicine Moira Novak.

Wisconsin is in its first year of a contract with Aegis Laboratories and estimates its yearly cost for drug testing athletes in its 23 sports to be $15,500, Waterfield said.

This means that OSU spends just less than $2,100 on drug testing per sport versus just more than $1,200 spent by Minnesota and just more than $670 per sport at Wisconsin.

Despite the hefty sums spent on testing student-athletes, there is a singular purpose to the thousands spent by universities and the millions spent by the Big Ten and NCAA.

“It’s necessary because you have to make sure everybody is on a level playing field,” senior kicker Devin Barclay said. “So it is what it is.”

Establishing that level playing field might lead to some awkward interactions.

“We do observe the collections,” Oman said.

After exhausting his eligibility in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl, Schwartz is hoping he has been observed offering his collection for the last time. 

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