Football fans may be advised to look for roster changes when the college teams line up for their bowl games. They may be advised to look beyond the usual reasons, too.
For the first time, some players--some as well known as USC's Jeff Bregel and Oklahoma's Brian Bosworth--will be in street clothes not because they feel too bad but because they feel too good.
This is the year of drug testing, the hoping of America.
The National Collegiate Athletic Assn., hoping to discourage the use of everything from Nyquil to anabolic steroids, last January overwhelmingly passed mandatory random testing for all postseason competition, including football bowl games. Players who test positive for any of the drugs on the NCAA's 59-page list will be suspended for at least 90 days.
Players have already been nailed from schools big and small. North Dakota State lost a pair of starters just before the team's semifinal game in the Division II playoffs. The Bison won anyway. Then three of the four teams involved in the Division I-AA playoffs lost one or more players.
For Nevada Reno, the loss of one defensive starter, who had tested positive for steroid use and was removed from the team just three days before the game, was almost surely part of the reason for the team's ensuing loss. The player, who admitted having taken steroids, was the team's leading tackler. Georgia Southern gained more than 600 yards against favored Nevada Reno.
It seems to be getting uglier, or at least substantially more noticeable, as the higher profile teams and players near the nationally televised big-bowl season. It is getting interesting, anyway, with the likes of Bosworth and Bregel being disqualified from bowl competition. The testing, whether well-meant or not, certainly raises a welter of issues:
--A limited number of players, out of the thousands who play college football, will now be subject to exposure as drug users (a serious invasion of privacy, many would complain) and all because they had the good fortune to be on a bowl-bound team.
--Teams, on weeks' or even days' notice, may find themselves having to retool their game plans around the positive test of one or more star players. Thus the best team early in the week, before the lab results are made available, could become a decidedly inferior team closer to bowl time.
--And what of the rights of the bowls themselves, even the networks, who have made substantial investments with their bids? It becomes a consumer issue as well.
The Fiesta Bowl bargained for the entire Miami and Penn State teams, committed nearly $5 million in fact. What if Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, who admittedly has never taken anything stronger than milk, is unable to play because of a positive drug test? Would Miami have perpetrated a kind of fraud? Folks have sued for a lot less.
Surely other issues will develop, but the NCAA and its member schools maintain that the only real issue is the deterrence of drug use.
"We just wanted to ensure clean, equitable competition," said Frank Uryasz, the NCAA's assistant director of research and sports sciences.
Although the implementation of testing comes at a time of near hysteria over drug use--the drug related death of Maryland basketball star Len Bias has spread the issue from the "Sports Machine" to "Nightline"--the NCAA actually voted on the policy well before it was headline material.
And although the NCAA is testing for drugs in three categories--street drugs, diuretics and anabolic steroids--there is little doubt that the program is aimed more at the performance enhancing steroids.
Most street drugs can be flushed from the system in a relatively short period of time, and it would be an unsophisticated or incautious athlete, indeed, who would use those drugs within a week or two of the testing. The testing has not been much of a surprise. Some schools even know to the day when testing will be done.
Diuretics, which athletes in some sports would use to make weight limits, or in the mistaken belief that they flush drugs, are similarly short-term.
But sports-medicine expert Bob Goldman, of the High Technology Fitness Institute, said that the NCAA's tests, modeled on the International Olympic Committee's testing, can detect steroid use six to eight months after their most recent injection.
"The player would have had to stop using well before summer to pass the test," he said. The bulk and muscle-producing steroids, which pose health hazards as well as questions of fair play, were clearly the concern of the NCAA and clearly the aim of the tests.
We will soon find out how widespread their use is.
It is not, however, as if the colleges had not been forewarned. In anticipation of the NCAA testing, virtually every major college football program has instituted its own drug testing program.
At UCLA, for example, the football players were told in May that they would be tested in August. That policy, perhaps enlightened by the example of the Olympic testing which had been done on the UCLA campus, was implemented before the NCAA's program. Similarly USC had an in-house drug testing program in place before the NCAA announced its.
"Obviously, things have a way of feeding off each other," said Judith Holland, the head of the drug-testing committee at UCLA. For all its good intent, UCLA knew full well that it could not afford any surprises the week before a bowl game. "Most major universities test," Holland said. "They'd be foolish not to. We wouldn't take a chance."
Paul Stuart, a Nevada Reno spokesman, said the school has been testing its players for two years, but only for illegal substances. Testing for steroids, illegal only in the eyes of the NCAA, requires a far more sophisticated and more expensive test. Of the $170 the NCAA is spending on each drug test, about $110 of that is for steroids.
The major programs, more than the lower division schools, have the money, and the inclination, to test for steroids. If any of the 36 players chosen for tests from each team--22 with the most playing time and 14 picked at random--do test positive for steroids, it will not be entirely surprising.
This in-house drug testing has already raised some debate. UCLA, recognizing the legal aspects of the issue, has a plan that is full of checks and balances. After one positive test, the athlete sees the team physician and is offered counseling and given medical information. At this point, the player enjoys patient-doctor confidentiality.
A second test is scheduled. Because of the long-lasting effects of steroids, it is almost certain to be positive. Yet if the level has gone down, "then we know he's not using it anymore," Holland said. In any event, the coach is informed.
After a third positive test, according to the policy, the player is automatically suspended from the team. Holland said, however, that as long as the level continued to go down, that part of the policy would probably not be implemented.
"We had three attorneys on our task force," she said. "We were very sensitive to the players' rights. That's why we built into the system a number of appeals. We believe the benefits, on balance, far outweigh any threat of a lawsuit.
"Some players have balked, but the main thing, they've gone along. They see the benefits. A lot of this is education. What they know about steroids is relatively small. When they know, most athletes won't take them on a bet. They don't want any moral statements from us, just medical facts."
Coaches, at least up to the point where they lose their defensive line, are enthusiastic about the NCAA rule.
Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler said: "We started drug testing a long time ago. It's in the best interest of the players. . . . We give the youngsters an opportunity that when their friends offer them drugs, they have a legitimate reason to say no. They can say no because they get tested. It gives them a way out. They don't have to do drugs because their friends understand that they have too much to lose.
"Drug testing is good for coaches, too. Before, if a player was acting strange, we might suspect him of using drugs. Now, we know it must be something else. It takes the burden off the players and the coaches."
You might ask what burden. It can be argued that coaches ought to be wary of any player who comes into practices 30 or more pounds heavier than he was the previous year, as was the case with at least three of the players nabbed this year.
Schembechler's opponent in the Rose Bowl, Arizona State Coach John Cooper, is similarly enthusiastic about the testing, even though ASU has found steroid testing to be too expensive. Richard Bear, a junior offensive lineman, will miss the Rose Bowl because he failed the NCAA test.
"We already have mandatory drug testing at Arizona State," Cooper said. "I was the first one in line this year. It was no big deal. If you put me on a four-year scholarship, you can test me anytime you want. We tell our recruits, 'If you don't want to be tested, don't come to school here.' "
Instead, they can go to Stanford.
Stanford doesn't test for drugs, hopes it never has to, and is kind of furious that it has to put with the NCAA testing so it can play Clemson in the Gator Bowl. The Cardinal lost offensive tackle John Zentner for the game because he reportedly failed the steroid testing.
Jack Friedenthal, the faculty representative to the team, explained the Stanford philosophy, a philosophy that could anticipate later problems with the plan:
"One, we think it is an invasion of privacy. Two, we think it is not in the interests of intercollegiate athletics. We think students should be treated as adults. Anyway, why should it be players? It should be all students. We like to think our athletes are students; maybe that's why our attitudes are different here."
Stanford, beyond philosophy, objected to the testing plan on grounds that over-the-counter drugs, such as Nyquil, a cold remedy, were banned.
"It's to the point of foolishness," Friedenthal said. "Our attitude might be different if the list were limited to certain kinds of steroids, perhaps cocaine. If there is a serious argument of competitive advantage, perhaps pushing kids to it, we might consider it."
But the real issue is privacy.
"Once you get into drug testing, there is no privacy," Friedenthal said. "None. The NCAA has offered no guarantees that names won't be revealed or records subpoenaed. This is not 'doctor-patient.' This is something that could affect their whole lives."
The NCAA answered that it makes the names of players who test positive available only to the schools. After that, it's up to the schools. Will they make the names public?
"Why would we do that?" asked Marvin Cobb at USC. "It's not something to brag about."
UCLA's Holland agreed that this is the bigger question. "How do you protect rights of the young man? There are questions of honesty and integrity. I just don't know. I lean to the rights of the players."
Not that you'll need a lab report in your hands to figure it out. If there is not already a reported reason for a starter standing on the sidelines, you can bet most fans will suspect the worst.
At Nevada Reno, the school went ahead and released the names of the players, figuring it was better that the media found out on the school's terms.
Although one player admitted steroid use, however, the other named denied it, is appealing the suspension and is asking for a retest. Medical people like Bob Goldman say the tests are virtually irrefutable if done properly. All the same . . .
Stanford's Friedenthal says the testing is poorly motivated, that it's a shirking of responsibility by the schools themselves.
"This isn't the answer," he said. "This is just the whole notion of schools and coaches protecting themselves first, before the kids. The real reason for testing has nothing to do with kids, and that's what makes us angriest. It has to do with coaches and schools protecting their investment."
He points out that if this "national hysteria" is truly justified, why does the testing just apply to a few teams?
At Nevada Reno, there hasn't been time for too much hard thinking on the subject. It has kind of taken them by surprise.
"We're talking deterrent here," said Paul Stuart of the school, still amazed at how the season ended. "My thinking is, it's going to take about one year of this."
In the meantime, be alert to those roster changes. We'll either see the shrinking of teams or, eventually, the shrinking of players.