We all know about Barry Bonds. Most of us know about Rafael Palmeiro.Some of us know about Shawn Merriman. But what about Jonathan Figueroa,Francisco Cruceta, or Tyron Wilson? Those are just a few of the Minor Leaguebaseball players nailed in 2007 for violating Major League Baseball’s drugpolicy, and chances are you’ve never heard of them.
Since the MLB instituted a testing policy, fifteen Major League playershave been caught using steroids. One-hundred and thirty minor league playershave been caught, and between 2003 and 2005 (the most recent numbers madeavailable by the NCAA), 90 student athletes tested positive for steroid use. This disturbing trend indicatesthat sports players at lower levels have a tendency to indulge in illegal substances, most likely as a way toaid them in getting to the next level. While it took professional baseball more than a decade to start checking their players for drugs, the NCAA began testing athletes in 1986.
Superficially, the program appears to be impressive. In 2004-05, 10,094 students were tested. Additionally, in 2006 the NCAA expanded testing to include the summer months, which requires universities to keep tabs on student’s whereabouts while school is out of session. If a student fails to show up for his or her test, then the NCAA treats it as if that student failed the test.
“These results are really encouraging and are the direct result of an ongoing partnership between the NCAA and member institutions to continue to strengthen drug-testing efforts by providing education and awareness programs,” said Jerry Koloskie, senior associate athletics director at the University of Nevada,Las Vegas, in an official statement.
But is the NCAA really doing all it can to eradicate steroids from the collegiate playing field?While the testing of 10,094 student athletes may appear to be impressive, that number represents less than 3 percent of all NCAA athletes. The testing program is also primarily aimed at football players. The number of baseball and track athletes tested is significantly less than that of football, which is surprising as both sports have garnered a reputation tied with performance enhancers.
Shawn Merriman’s positive steroid test last year raised many eyebrows. While it is generally perceived thatsteroids in baseball far outweigh steroid use in football, Merriman’s positive test should serve to disprove some of the innocence assumed upon the NFL. Although college sports have fallen under far less scrutiny than the major leagues that pay players to play, there is no reason that the NCAA should not improve upon its anti-steroid initiative. Before the program adopted year-round testing policy in 2006, virtually no majorchanges had been made since its inception. The NCAA spends $4 million per year on its testing program. Spending only $4 million, especially given their 2006-2007 revenue of $564 million, is unacceptable. Instead of allocating a lump sum of $4 million toward the steroid issue, the NCAA needs to take more stepstowards having a well-rounded program. For one, Division 1 athletes who are, in many cases, just one step below the professional level should be the primary target of testing. Bottlenecking the steroid problem before it hits the professional numbers should effectively eliminate many potential users.
The NCAA should also allocate money from specific revenue generators towards the program. For example, as championship revenues account for $44.9 million, a portion of that money should be sanctioned specifically for testing during bowl games, the NCAA college basketball tournament, etc.The testing of student athletes serves two very important purposes: it protects the athletes from harm thatmay be incurred later in their lives due to using steroids, and it can also restore the integrity of professional sport.