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Iowa finds "flaws" in drug testing program

BY MITCH SMITH | DECEMBER 15, 2010 7:10 AM

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In the wake of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' arrest last week on drug charges, the Iowa athletics department decided to re-evaluate the school's drug-testing policy for current student-athletes, Athletics Director Gary Barta said in a press conference Tuesday.

Though Barta declined to go into specifics, he said there are "flaws" and "inconsistencies" with the drug-testing program.

"We didn't catch anybody cheating on the tests," Barta said. "I'm not at all concerned in following up that there's a staff member who is involved in some sort of inappropriate behavior or cover-up. But we did find pretty strong evidence that there are a couple of ways that our student-athletes probably have and most likely have at some point gotten around the test in some way."

The re-evaluation of the drug-testing program was to "make sure the protocols and procedures were all in line," he said.

Iowa began drug testing its student-athletes in 1988, but it is not required to do so by the NCAA or any other governing body. Although the Big Ten and NCAA also perform their own random drug testing, the athletics department spends approximately $70,000 per year to run its own program in order to educate student-athletes, serve as a deterrent against drug use, and allow those who test positive to get help or counseling before it becomes a larger problem or a legal issue.

While Barta said the NCAA and Big Ten's major focus for drug-testing is for performance-enhancing drugs, the UI initiative tests for street drugs, alcohol, steroids, and other performance enhancers, as well as masking agents that an individual might take to receive a negative test.

Fred Mims, the Hawkeye associate athletics director for student services and compliance, said a few schools perform drug testing on their own, "but not to the extent that we're doing it."

All Hawkeye athletes face random testing at least once a year, either through the school, the Big Ten, or NCAA.

Citing the university's Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, Mims said one positive test results in an assessment and 20 hours of community service. While suspension doesn't necessarily come into play after a first offense, he noted that each specific coach could suspend a player depending on her or his team's rules.

A second offense results in a student-athlete's automatic suspension from the team, 30 hours of community service, and a meeting with Barta and her or his coach to determine whether the player will be allowed back on the team. A third offense results in removal from the team.

Ferentz said he is very fortunate to be coaching at a school that is so proactive with its testing.

"My rationale for testing is I certainly want to get out ahead of the game," he said. "I think anybody in coaching anywhere in this country, probably any team, if you're coaching college students, pro athletes, I'd venture to say high-school athletes, too, if you don't think drug culture is part of those student bodies, both those levels, and the professional ranks, I think you're a little a little bit naïve."

The UI's tests are administered by professional health-science students, who follow the athletes into the restroom to provide urine samples. The sample is labeled with a number — not the individual athlete's name — picked up by a carrier, and taken to a lab for testing. The only time the student-athlete's name is ever disclosed is if the test comes back positive.

Del Miller, a UI professor of psychiatry, has spent the past two years serving as a consultant managing the athletics department's drug-testing program.

The university administers 800 to 900 drug tests per year, Miller said, and fewer than 1 percent come back positive.

Although Iowa's testing program has been very successful and there's no concrete evidence of cheating on tests, Miller, Barta, and Ferentz all said it's still important to be proactive and make sure their test is the very best.

"We're trying to evaluate the program and make changes that are necessary," said Miller, noting that blood testing is something for the university to consider. "I think this has been historically a very good program, and I think we do as much testing as any major college. We will continue to do that and try to improve it."


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