Recently, a commenter on this site wrote something to this effect under one of our stories: “No one does ‘I told you so’s’ like Pennington.”
First, get ready for another one. Second, I think it’s actually a positive that we here at MrSEC.com are so often in a position to actually say “we told you so.” But on to the point of this post…
On February 1st, 2011, we stated that the SEC should make three moves to improve its renegade reputation. (And, yes, we know, some of you don’t care about the league’s reputation. Here’s guessing those who say that aren’t SEC presidents… or actual attendees of those schools, for that matter.) Our three suggested actions:
1. Outlaw oversigning. – Done. Just a few months later the SEC did indeed create a soft 25-man cap on football signees.
2. Create one uniform drug policy. — More on this one in a second.
3. Prevent players dismissed from one SEC program from transferring to another SEC school. — This would simply show more decorum and respect between partner institutions. If Cam Newton, for example, could not abide by the loose rules set by Urban Meyer at Florida, then Florida should not have had to compete against him at a rival school. Athletes would still have a shot at a second-chance at about 110 other FBS football schools and at more than 300 other D-I basketball schools.
For now, let’s focus on Point Two. That the one that’s in the national spotlight today, more than a year after we mentioned it. And Syracuse University’s basketball program has put the issue in said spotlight.
In case you missed it, yesterday it was reported via Yahoo! Sports that at least 10 SU basketball players tested positive for banned substances over the past decade, but the school chose to ignore its own drug policy by not counting all of the positive tests.
The school continued to play athletes who should have been suspended, according to its own university policy. With the NCAA beginning to sniff around on the matter, the school released a statement yesterday:
“We self-reported issues with drug testing to the NCAA, and there is currently an ongoing inquiry. The inquiry does not involve any current SU student-athletes. To ensure the integrity of the ongoing process, we are unable to comment further at this time.”
Integrity. That’s some funny word choice, right there. And it gets to the heart of the matter.
Media types often roll their eyes when they hear of a failed drug test leading to a player’s suspension. That’s because we’ve all heard of star athletes getting the ol’ “look the other way” treatment over failed marijuana tests — or worse — while some third-string fullback gets the heave-ho for his failed test.
Nick Saban has said the media is often too cynical. The Syracuse situation is why the media is often cynical. Another reason for pessimism right here in the ol’ SEC? There’s no uniform drug policy in existence.
Several schools have a three-strikes policy for drug tests. Florida has a five-strike policy. Some schools test more often than others. Some ignore a first failed test while others — Georgia and Kentucky — hand out immediate suspensions.
There’s too much gray area there for a league that prides itself on having a level playing field for all its member institutions.
Mike Slive has overseen an incredible run in the SEC. He’s made the league money with barrier-busting TV contracts and he’s cleaned up the league’s image a bit with a signing cap and a push for multi-year athletic scholarships.
We believe he should now steer the SEC’s presidents toward the creation of one, uniform drug policy for all 14 new members. Lord knows the league has the television revenue to cover the costs.
Obviously, Slive doesn’t want to go campus to campus collecting urine, blood and hair samples. And school presidents want to be able to police their own campuses. Trouble is — in light of the Syracuse investigation (and you can bet others are coming) — we can’t trust them to properly police themselves because they have a vested interest in keeping athletes on the field, winning games, and making more money.
Quite simply, Slive and the SEC presidents should farm out school drug testing to a single independent company. There are companies who handle drug testing for companies nationwide and it shouldn’t be hard to find one to handle 14 high-profile schools.
That company would administer the drug tests and provide a report back to the league office. A first failed test would result in a warning. A second would lead to a suspension covering 25% of the remaining season. A third, a 50% of the remaining season. A fourth, automatic dismissal.
The schools would be required to pay for their own testing. A third-party company would handle the testing. The league office would dole out the penalties — which would all be spelled out in advance — and hear appeals.
We called for this last February. Now a major school is in hot water thanks to this very issue little more than a year later. Suddenly the national media is starting to pay attention, calling for a uniform NCAA plan.
Better to lead the pack than to follow it.
Slive and the SEC presidents should make a uniform drug policy this year’s oversigning. They should do so before it’s an SEC school that’s caught protecting star players from its own drug policy. After all, just how proud do you think the Big East and ACC are today?
Congrats, Syracuse. You embarrassed yourself and two conferences.
It’s time for Slive and the presidents to act before someone embarrasses the SEC.