Yesterday, I noticed some commenters here, along with others on the Internet, claiming an understanding of the stance the NCAA was taking in not allowing Houston’s eligibility – Mark Emmert’s concern that making an exception for Houston “would undermine the purpose of the drug testing program.”
In response, I and others pointed out that the NCAA has exercised discretion in applying the spirit of its rules and not the letter when it felt circumstances warranted it, the Penn State sanctions being the most recent example of that approach. The thing about it is, though, that you don’t have to wander nearly that far afield to find such an example because the NCAA has already done so in Houston’s own case.
Houston, from Buford, Ga., was an early enrollee at Georgia in January 2010. He failed an NCAA drug test April 13, 2010, triggering an automatic one-year suspension. He failed a second NCAA drug test Feb. 2, 2011, and the organization initially handed him a lifetime ban from NCAA participation.
However, Georgia successfully won an appeal by proving with results of its own testing that the drug had never fully left Houston’s system and that “the second positive drug test demonstrated residual from the initial drug use rather than re-use,” Courson wrote in a July 9 letter to McGarity. “Fortunately for our student-athlete, we have our own institutional drug testing to protect him from an unfair and unsupported accusation.”
Not only did that exhaustive testing process help Georgia win its appeal, the school also touted its results as evidence that Houston has not taken any performance-enhancing drugs in the meantime.
So, to summarize: (1) the NCAA ruled that Houston should receive a lifetime ban due to a second positive drug test result; (2) the school appealed based on scientific evidence it compiled showing that Houston wasn’t taking steroids; (3) the school’s appeal was successful; (4) the school appealed again, asking for the player’s reinstatement based on scientific evidence it compiled that Houston wasn’t taking steroids and that the continued presence of the drug in his system doesn’t give him a competitive advantage… and (5) Emmert purports to be surprised by Georgia’s request.
Sorry, but one of those things doesn’t follow, and it’s not Georgia’s request for reinstatement. If in the NCAA’s eyes the continued presence of the drug in his system doesn’t automatically disqualify him for life, I find it hard to see how the same excused presence together with a showing that there is no competitive advantage from the drug in Houston’s system should keep him from playing now. Then again, I’m not Mark Emmert.
But maybe somebody should ask Mark Emmert exactly what the purpose of the NCAA’s drug testing program is these days, because in Houston’s case it seems to be more about justifying its own existence than being about protecting competitive balance.
UPDATE: What we could use right now is some really lazy thinking. Fortunately, that’s why we have ESPN’s bloggers.
Unfortunately, the NCAA can’t make an exception for Houston. He’s already escaped a lifetime ban after his second positive test, and while you have to feel for Houston, making an exception for him would open up a new can of worms for the NCAA. The NCAA doesn’t want to have to deal with similar cases each year because you never know which ones could be true or fabiricated.
I’m not saying Houston’s is fabricated, but if he were allowed to play, what’s to stop other athletes from experimenting to see if they can use a similar story to slip by the NCAA?
Umm… how about that they wouldn’t have their schools running multiple tests to confirm that no further steroid usage had occurred? And submitting data that was sufficient to allow the NCAA to withdraw a lifetime ban?