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NCAA to start drug-testing program in Division III

2/14/2007 - College Football

MENOMONIE, Wis. -- After police seized steroids from the
homes of two of his linebackers, University of Wisconsin-Stout
football coach Todd Strop fired off an e-mail warning his players
to stop using drugs or quit.

"I am scared to know how deep the drug use is on this team, but
we will, with your help, get it cleaned up," he wrote in the Dec.
21 e-mail obtained by The Associated Press in an open records
request. "For those of you who are clean, I apologize for not
knowing and we are proud of you."

Division III coaches at schools such as Wisconsin-Stout soon
should be better able to understand the extent of drug use among
their players.

Wisconsin-Stout and up to 115 other schools will participate in
an NCAA pilot program starting next school year that will subject
some of their athletes to random drug testing and require them to
educate players on the effects of drug use.

The two-year program, expected to cost the NCAA $1.2 million,
aims to determine how many Division III players use common street
drugs and performance-enhancing substances. The findings will help
decide whether the NCAA should implement a year-round testing
program similar to those in Divisions I and II.

"The sense among our student athletes and our leadership is we
need to get a better handle on the extent to which a problem might
exist," said Dan Dutcher, NCAA vice president for Division III.
"This will be our first venture into any kind of NCAA
regular-season testing."

He said the goal is to improve the health of student athletes
and ensure fair competition amid concerns about the use of
performance-enhancing drugs at all levels of sports.

Division III athletes use social drugs such as alcohol,
marijuana and cocaine more than their upper-division counterparts,
according to an NCAA survey released in 2006. The survey found
comparable levels of anabolic steroid use across all divisions.

The issue hit home in Menomonie, a city of 15,000 in western
Wisconsin, in December when police seized liquid steroids and other
drugs from the homes of Wisconsin-Stout football players Luke
Steffen, a senior all-conference linebacker who led the team in
tackles, and junior linebacker Nicholas OrRico.

The discovery came after police searched their homes one block
from each other near the campus recreation center. A former player
who left the team in 2005 also was arrested. All three face
multiple drug charges and have pleaded not guilty.

Neither Steffen, OrRico, nor their attorneys returned phone
messages.

The news shocked the university of 8,400 students and Strop
resigned after three years as coach in January, weeks after sending
the e-mail warning to his team.

Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Commissioner Gary
Karner said Wisconsin-Stout and a handful of its members have asked
to participate in the pilot program, which he said would yield
significant data.

"We have a tendency to think some of the seedier things that go
on in athletics, that we're immune. But those things can occur at
any campus, at any level, at any time," he said. "The
Wisconsin-Stout situation proves we're not immune to those
pressures."

Even before the arrests, Wisconsin-Stout agreed to participate
in the NCAA program. But the university said this month it would go
further, implementing random drug testing for all athletes and
requiring the entire football team to submit to testing this
spring.

University spokesman Doug Mell said the policies will be among
the toughest in Division III, whose institutions cannot award
sports scholarships.

Ryan Ament, a Wisconsin-Stout running back who also competes in
shot put for its track and field team, said he has no problems
submitting to drug tests.

"I think it's a very smart move to set the standard to let
everybody know this is a serious matter," said Ament, who was
stunned by the arrests of his teammates. "We are Division III. I
think it's getting a little out of hand if people are resorting to
drugs at this level."

Many small schools have resisted such tests, in part because
they lack the money to pay for them, don't think drug problems
exist or believe they unfairly target student athletes.

Only 13 percent of Division III schools had drug-testing
policies in place in 2005, according to the latest NCAA survey. And
until now, the NCAA has done random drug testing only for
championship competitions.

In the pilot program, up to 20 athletes at each school picked
randomly by the NCAA will be required to give urine samples on
short notice. The results will be given to schools in aggregate
form, but individual violators will not be identified or face
sanctions since it is only a research project.

The tests will be administered by the National Center for Drug
Free Sport, the Kansas City group that tests for
performance-enhancing substances in Divisions I and II. The pilot
will go beyond those programs and test for other illegal drugs such
as marijuana.

Frank Uryasz, the group's president, said calls for the testing
came from athletes concerned about maintaining fair competition.
Many small schools resist testing until athletes get in trouble, he
said, but data indicate drug problems exist.

"What I usually hear from Division III is they believe strongly
athletes should be treated the same as the rest of the student body
and to single them out for testing is inconsistent with that
philosophy," he said. "But I point to the NCAA drug-use study. If
we can bring some of those drug-use numbers down by using drug
testing, it ought to be considered."

Mary Wilfert, NCAA associate director of education outreach,
emphasized a key part of the pilot program will be the educational
efforts, including videos on the NCAA's banned substances and
information on problems of substance abuse. She said the goal is to
create an environment where drug use is not tolerated.

"We think it's going to have an impact across the board on all
drug use," Wilfert said.