Washington — The costs of being a college athlete on drugs have just risen dramatically. In announcing its new comprehensive drug testing policy this week, the National Collegiate Athletic Association has issued a stern warning to competitors that drug use will not be tolerated at college championship events and football bowl games.
Individual victories by discovered drug users will be negated and entire team efforts will be invalidated if a single member of the team tests positive for drug use, according to the new policy.
``I firmly believe this is one of the most constructive things the NCAA can do for intercollegiate athletics and for the community as a whole,'' says NCAA executive director Walter Byers.
While more than 80 major colleges and universities already conduct their own tests to detect use by athletes of street drugs like marijuana and cocaine, the NCAA drug testing program will for the first time also target a wide range of ``performance enhancing'' drugs, such as anabolic steroids and stimulants.
By testing for more than 90 different drugs, the NCAA is seeking to counter both the peer pressure on student athletes to use marijuana or cocaine and the competitive pressure that drives some athletes to turn to chemicals to be stronger or faster on the playing field.
Some coaches and athletic directors are applauding the NCAA program as a needed adjunct to drug prevention and education efforts. Others are questioning the fairness of the NCAA policy that a single drug user on a team sport will negate a team victory in a championship game. But there is no question about the potential impact of the new drug-test plan.
``I think the impact will be that players will do what they have to do to make sure they are clean to play,'' says LaVell Edwards, head football coach at Brigham Young University. Mr. Edwards, the 1984 Coach of the Year, says that in his view the most effective long-term response to the current drug problem in college sports is to educate student athletes to the detrimental physical effects of drug use.
``I think there has been an excellent job done in educating over the years about the effects of tobacco use,'' Coach Edwards says. ``Hopefully, education could have the same effect in this problem of drug use.''
A 1984 survey by the NCAA revealed that only 3 percent of college athletes smoked cigarettes, down sharply from decades earlier. But the same survey showed that 27 percent of athletes used marijuana and 12 percent used cocaine. The survey also revealed that 6.5 percent of college athletes use steroids and 8 percent use amphetamines.
``We have got to move toward people performing drug-free,'' says Al Wilson, the athletic director and head football coach at Delaware Valley College, near Philadelphia. Mr. Wilson says he is concerned about the accuracy of drug tests, but he believes the NCAA's plan is a positive step by offering a deterrent to drug use.
Rather than relying on drug tests at Delaware Valley, Wilson has organized a drug prevention program for his football players in which the players themselves talk to community groups and school children about the benefits of remaining drug-free.
``We are utilizing college athletes to stand up and be counted against drug and alcohol abuse,'' Wilson says. In addition, 27 of the 50 pages in the game program distributed at Delaware Valley football games this year will be devoted to articles about drug prevention. ``We hand out the game program and all of a sudden kids are looking through it,'' says Wilson.
The effort is what Wilson describes as ``reverse positive peer pressure,'' where younger athletes and others learn from the example of those in the community they look up to -- college athletes. ``Kids listen to [Delaware Valley football players] a lot more than they listen to me or their own coaches,'' Wilson says.