Jordan on sports

tsj column writers - sports viewBy Jordan Kobritz

The short-handed Oregon Ducks lost to Ohio State 42-20 in the first ever College Football Playoff (CFP) national championship game.

Two Oregon players, wide receiver Darren Carrington and running back Ayele Forde, were forced to sit out the game after failing drug tests mandated by the NCAA. Carrington tested positive for marijuana although Forde’s specific violation is unknown. The players were tested prior to the Ducks’ victory over Florida State in the CFP semifinal game the previous week. As with most things involving the NCAA, their role in the drug testing process is controversial.

The NCAA conducts random drug tests prior to and during its championship tournaments and events, 89 of them if you’re counting at home.  But other than drug testing, the NCAA is not involved in any aspect of the CFP.  That responsibility rests with the Big-5 conferences which make the rules, pay the expenses and distribute the profits without any input or oversight from the NCAA.

As affirmation of that independence, one need only look to Monday’s CFP championship game at A T & T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys. The NCAA doesn’t allow the sale of alcoholic beverages at any of its championship events. But if you were in attendance Monday night, or you watched closely on TV, you know that alcoholic beverages were widely available for purchase.

The CFP organizers also allotted up to $3,000 in travel expenses for each player’s family to attend the title game.  Although the NCAA’s revenue approaches a billion dollars a year, the governing body doesn’t provide similar travel stipends to players’ families.  However, the NCAA passed a resolution last year that authorizes the Big-5 conferences to make up their own rules in some areas, including those regarding family travel stipends.  Alas, the grant of self-governance doesn’t extend to drug testing during the CFP.

In addition to drug testing at championship events, the NCAA has a year-round drug testing policy.  However, it does not test for marijuana except at bowl games in football and championship events in other sports.  The NCAA does encourage individual schools and conferences to set up their own testing programs.  Few conferences have implemented uniform procedures for their members, preferring to allow schools to address the issue individually.  Most schools are fairly liberal in both their frequency of testing and the severity of punishment they impose for marijuana violations.

Oregon, similar to a number of schools, uses a progressive approach to discipline. Players aren’t suspended until their third positive test. After each of the first two failed tests, players receive counseling and education on the dangers of using drugs. For a third offense, players are suspended for 10% of the season, the equivalent of one game for a football player.  In contrast, the NCAA suspends players for half a season, which includes the playoffs, for a first offense.  Harsh as the current penalty may seem, players were suspended for an entire season until 2013 when marijuana and steroid violations were separated.

Currently, 23 states have enacted legislation that permits the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Several of those states, including Oregon, have gone further and allow the use of marijuana for recreational purposes, although Oregon’s law does not take effect until July 1.  At least five states have marijuana related ballot measures scheduled in the next year.  It should be noted that the federal government still views the possession and use of cannabis, even for medical purposes, as a crime.

Medical permission is easily obtainable, especially for such things as stress, pain and physical ailments, making it very likely that an athlete could convince a physician of the benefits of using marijuana. However, patients must be at least 21 years of age, which eliminates many college athletes. But plenty of them still smoke weed. In the NCAA’s most recent survey, 16% of all Division 1 athletes and 17.4% of all D-1 football players admitted using pot.

Fourteen years ago a Gallup survey determined that more than two-thirds of Americans were against using marijuana for any purpose. A recent PEW poll found that 54% of Americans currently approve of the use of medical marijuana.

Given the sea change in how Americans view marijuana, and its own inconsistent testing policies, perhaps the NCAA should relax its penalties even further.

(Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner.  He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com  Jordan can be reached at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu.)

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