First the good news. The NCAA's new testing program may eliminate the use of certain drugs in college sports. Now the bad news. It may transform collegiate sports into an Orwellian theater of paranoia.
More than 3,000 athletes playing in 74 NCAA championships and 19 postseason football games will be tested for more than 90 banned drugs, including, to the NCAA's credit, anabolic steroids. In basketball the NCAA will test eight players from each of the 64 tournament teams before or after their first-round games, then test the two teams after the title game. In Division I football 36 players (22 based on playing time, 14 at random) will be tested before and after each bowl game. In track the first three finishers in each event will be tested, plus two athletes chosen at random.
If any athlete tests positive for drugs after a game, his team's performance will be nullified. (Obviously, an NCAA official confided, the most competitive universities may feel compelled to begin their own testing programs. "Can you see a school going to the Orange Bowl," he said, "without having first tested its players, and risk us finding the one kid who tests positive?") It's possible there may be some modifications of the testing rules at the NCAA's January meeting.
Olympics-approved labs in Los Angeles and Montreal will analyze the samples, and there will be a stringent chain-of-custody system to ensure that the testing is "foolproof," to use the NCAA's hopeful words.
Walter Byers, who is genuinely haunted by drugs in college sports, dismisses concerns about the test's violation of civil liberties. If you don't agree to be tested, the NCAA's executive director says, you don't have to play college sports.