Crime and punishment in college ball 

December, 21, 2010

On Monday, this Brett McMurphy piece about the varying drug policies of major college football programs was published:

    Clemson, Ole Miss, Purdue and UCLA are the only universities among the nation's automatic-qualifying Bowl Championship Series conference schools that do not require a member of its football team to miss any playing time after two positive drug tests, a FanHouse investigative study discovered. However, six universities  Baylor, Cincinnati, Georgia, Kentucky, Miami and Virginia Tech -- have a much stricter policy, suspending its players at least one game for a first positive drug test. Those are just some of the major differences revealed in a FanHouse study into the nation's biggest football programs and how they deal with disciplining their players for illegal use of street drugs, such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.

    While nearly all of the drug policies obtained by FanHouse recommended or required first-time offenders to participate in counseling, FanHouse's study found several interesting -- and strikingly different -- philosophies on the severity of dealing with multiple-time drug offenders.

    At Purdue and UCLA, a student-athlete does not miss any games after two positive tests and only misses one game for a third positive test. By comparison, a student-athlete at 31 of the 60 schools is dismissed from the football program for a third positive test. Purdue also offers this caveat: if a student-athlete goes 18 months since his last positive test, he may revert back to his previous number of positive tests  in essence earning up to five chances before dismissal. At Clemson, no games are missed for two positive tests. The main punishment is the student-athlete must perform a minimum of 30 hours community service. At Ole Miss, a student-athlete with a second positive drug test also doesn't miss any playing time, but loses "certain privileges such as complimentary player or family game tickets." A third positive test results in a three-game suspension At Florida, Illinois, Purdue and UCLA, student-athletes at those respective schools may have up to five positive drug tests before being dismissed. Those are easily the nation's most lenient policies, at least as far as allowing a student-athlete the most chances.

    "I would argue a school is at a competitive disadvantage (that allows five positive tests before dismissal)," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said.

We've talked a lot about discipline in this blog over the past few years -- as well as the ways schools hand down punishments. Last year, I shared Chris Spielman's views on this subject, which were definitely stricter than the ones adhered to by these football programs. In the wake of McMurphy's story, I reached out to a few other folks for their opinions about whether they felt like many schools are doing a disservice to their programs by being too lenient, which seemed to be the reaction to the FanHouse report.

My colleague David Pollack, the former three-time all-American from Georgia, isn't that from removed from his college days. He told me that he thinks the tests are "a deterrent" for a lot of folks, but they're still kids and there are still those kids that think they're not going to get in trouble, much in the same manner many skip curfews.

"I was scared out of my mind to drink Sudafed because it has Ephedrin in it," he said. "And they started cracking down on Ephedrin. It's in the back of your mind. It should be a deterrent because there's random tests. You don't know when it's coming. If you knew when it's coming, it would defeat the purpose completely. If guys knew when the tests were coming, I think there would be a lot more doing drugs because they knew they probably weren't going to get caught. With the tests now, it makes people think twice because they do know they can get in trouble, get suspended, get kicked off the team, get your name out there in a bad light."

Pollack added that he isn't a fan of any zero-tolerance policies.

"It's kinda like the NFL, where you get a pass and you go into 'the program'," he said. "I would want to give forgiveness if someone does something really stupid one time. I'm O.K. with the punishment, but not a one-year suspension. If you get caught, I'm all for some kind of consequences to your action. Every school does something different. I wouldn't want to completely take away a whole season because they might've done something stupid on one night.

"Even if you have a good head on your shoulders, it doesn't mean you can't be out drinking one night -- and let's be honest, a lot of college kids go out drinking -- and you have a moment where you do something stupid, I don't think you should be completely obliterated for it. You know how 18 and 19-year-olds think. They don't think about getting in trouble. A lot of times it takes an incident where they do 'get in trouble' for them to wake up. Everybody grows up and matures at different times."

I'd also asked a four-star recruit about whether he thought about these policies at all as he tries to make his decision on which college to sign with. "I don't," he said. "I doubt a lot of recruits worry about getting caught. Honestly, I always figured that the real deal is if a good player tests positive two or three times, the school will give him more of a chance than if it's a guy who doesn't play much because even if that guy gets one failed test, they're running him off to free up the scholarship."

Beef O' Brady's Pick

I'm off to a 2-1 start against the line heading into tonight's St. Pete Bowl. Expect Bilal Powell and the Louisville ground game to give So. Miss problems, even though USM has been solid against the run this season. I also think the Cards have enough talent on D to slow down USM QB Austin Davis. Louisville 35-24.

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