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Craig Neff
January 05, 1987
Brian Bosworth was a conspicuous casualty of the NCAA's steroid crackdown
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January 05, 1987

Bosworth Faces The Music

Brian Bosworth was a conspicuous casualty of the NCAA's steroid crackdown

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The doctor's decision to prescribe Deca-Durabolin is itself puzzling. According to its manufacturer, Organon Pharmaceuticals of West Orange, N.J., Deca-Durabolin is primarily used in the treatment of cancer patients or of people who have some kinds of anemia. The authoritative Physicians' Desk Reference says Deca-Durabolin is "probably effective" also as part of a broad treatment program for osteoporosis and "possibly effective" for the treatment of severe burn victims and patients coming out of major surgery.

To regular steroid users, the drug is notorious because it lingers in the system for as long as 11 months. "It's the one anabolic athletes who use steroids consider a nemesis," says Tony Fitton, a former Auburn strength coach and steroids authority. Fitton, who served nine months in federal prisons in 1985 and 1986 for, among other offenses, conspiracy to import steroids, says, "Deca creates problems because it's detectable for such a long while."

Under NCAA rules passed in January 1986 and put into effect in August, the 22 players who played the most minutes during the regular season and 14 randomly chosen reserves from each bowl-bound team were to be tested for anabolic steroids and some 80 other drugs. As it turned out, only the participants in 10 major bowls were tested because of a shortage of top-quality labs and testing personnel. Bosworth knew he might be tested but considered himself free of any traces of Deca-Durabolin after he passed a steroid screening (the first in OU history) in September. Samples of 64 players were collected by OU team trainers then analyzed at Indiana University, whose drug-testing lab is one of the nation's finest. According to Pickett, two Sooners, whom he would not identify, showed positive in the September steroid screening but passed the mandatory follow-up test in October. "I walked right into Coach Switzer's office afterward and said, 'Coach, we're ready to go to the Orange Bowl,' " says Pickett.

But it was not to be that simple. Bosworth was laid up in the school infirmary with a stomach infection when the NCAA testing crew arrived Dec. 10. He had a 103° fever and intravenous needles in his arms because of dehydration. Somehow, whether because his urine sample was more concentrated or because the dehydration caused some of the remaining Deca-Durabolin to be released from storage in his body fat—or perhaps for some other reason—Bosworth's test showed positive, as did Bennett's and Shoemaker's.

Bosworth was furious over his suspension. An outspoken critic of recreational drug use, he ridiculed the NCAA for allowing an athlete to test positive for marijuana without penalty (some drug-testing experts worry that passive smoke might cause a false positive reading, and the NCAA shares that concern) while hassling him over "what's in my system from a year ago." "[The NCAA drug] law didn't come into effect until August," Bosworth grumbled. "So you tell me who's at fault."

There is certainly no evidence to suggest that Bosworth has used anabolic steroids for anything other than rehabilitation. Deca-Durabolin, besides lingering in the system too long to suit many athletes, does not lead to significant weight gains. "If he wanted to get strong, to put on weight, to get aggressive, which is why most football players take steroids in the first place, he would not have chosen Deca," says Fitton.

Still, Bosworth's attempts at blaming the NCAA for his predicament rang hollow. Switzer says he warned the team as early as last January about the impending steroid testing, and the 240-pound Bosworth admits taking Deca-Durabolin until mid-March. Bosworth can't find fault with the testing methodology, either: The NCAA gave more than ample warning—having announced its testing plan last January—to athletes (including a week's notice of the exact date of prebowl testing) and has conducted all of its tests through the Montreal and UCLA drug-testing labs, the two most advanced facilities in North America. According to steroids experts, the gas chromatography/mass spectrometry equipment at these labs is so sensitive—UCLA boasts that it can tell if a spoonful of sugar has been dumped in the water of an Olympic-sized swimming pool—that there is little chance to mask steroid traces chemically in a urine sample.

John Toner, the athletics director at the University of Connecticut and the chairman of the NCAA committee on drug testing, had this assessment of the results: "I'm happy and quite encouraged. We wanted to test at all 19 bowls, but logistically we just couldn't.... We will have at least one more lab next year. It's possible we will test more bowl teams next year. Our plan is to eventually test everybody going to a bowl game.... We haven't done enough to make any predictions but we [Toner and the directors of the two testing labs] thought we'd have a much higher incidence.... With the [publicity] this got last January, you'd have been foolish not to take heed. Yet there were gurus out there who said you can get by the test. Well, that may be, but it's hard."

As for Bosworth, who was redshirted in 1983, he was left to ponder whether he might want to turn pro instead of returning for a fifth year. "This could hurt me for a long time," he said. "I'm plastered across the headlines from here to Russia." While he watches Thursday's Orange Bowl from the sidelines, Bosworth will have plenty of time to think about it, just as the strict new testing will give future college—and maybe even NFL—players something to contemplate, too.

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