In the days leading up to the College Football Playoff National Championship, controversy arose as two Oregon Ducks players were suspended for one year by the National Collegiate Athletic Association because they tested positive for marijuana on a mandatory drug test. Outraged, fans voiced their displeasure at the ruling and for once it seems the NCAA was actually listened.
On January 15, the NCAA announced that it would be rethinking its drug policy. The change in policy was promoted on recommendations made by the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.
Currently the NCAA has one of the strictest drug testing standards in sports. Under current guidelines, the NCAA’s marijuana threshold is five nanograms of THC per milliliter. To give you better context, the NFL’s marijuana threshold is 35 nanograms and the World Anti-Doping Agency’s is 150 nanograms.
The committee called upon the NCAA to strengthen its stance on performance enhancing drugs while taking a different approach for recreational drugs. According to one committee member, “Use of recreational drugs should absolutely be discouraged … but because they do not provide a competitive advantage, alternative approaches to testing should be developed.”
The committee also pointed out that more than 30 years of drug testing has done little to prevent student athletes from doing recreational drugs.
This claim is bolstered by the release of a recent a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, which determined that a positive educational environment acts as a better deterrent to recreational drug use among students than drug testing.
The Sport Science Institute will assist in the development a new policy proposal based upon on the committee’s recommendations. Then, the proposal will be submitted to committee members, who will then submit it to the NCAA’s three divisional governing bodies.
“It is our hope the proposed model will address drug deterrence in the most effective way to change behavior,” said committee chair Brant Berkstresser. “We feel that the NCAA should be focused on drug testing for those substances that may provide an unfair performance advantage.”
Although the committee’s recommendation was presented to the NCAA back in December, the sporting organization was motivated to make the announcement due to the outrage over suspending the two Oregon players from the National Championship.
While student athletes could still be subjected to random drug testing, that responsibility will be placed upon the school instead of the NCAA. Given the new climate that the NCAA wants to cultivate, combined with the financial burden of testing athletes, universities should be less inclined to test their athletes for marijuana.
We may be far off from a Heisman Trophy winner endorsing his favorite brand of marijuana, but to have the world of college sports start peeling back decades of archaic drug policy is an important victory for athletes and the industry.