OPINION: A Simple Solution to a Rare Problem

If Marcus Curry was a University of Georgia football player he would have been suspended for the team's first two games as a result of a positive drug test. However he plays for the U.S. Naval Academy and is facing no disciplinary action from the team which means he should be on the field when Navy takes on Maryland this September.

According to a survey taken by the NCAA, 77 Football Bowl Subdivision schools (out of 82 that responded) have a drug-testing program in place. One of these schools is the University of Georgia which has a stringent drug policy for all of their athletes. The rules are simple: if you fail a drug test, you are suspended for ten percent of your team's games for the season. According to Georgia director of sports medicine, Ron Courson, it does not matter what the circumstances surrounding the positive test may be, including unknown ingestion. In addition to the suspension, any Georgia athlete who fails a drug test must also undergo counseling and perform community service. This policy is separate and unique from the NCAA drug testing program. If an athlete fails an NCAA drug test, they are automatically suspended from team activities for a year.

 

Georgia's policy is one of the stricter drug programs in the country. For example at the University of Maryland, a first drug test failure results in mandatory counseling, and the coaching staff is not allowed to discipline a student-athlete as a result of this first offense. A second offense at Maryland does result in a two-week suspension from the team.

 

Another example of drug policies being all over the spectrum is at Notre Dame where according to associate athletic director Michael Karwoski, a first positive test results in counseling but no restriction on practice or competition. However, with a second positive test in South Bend, a player is permanently banned from participating at athletics at Notre Dame.

 

Typically none of this drug policy talk would ever hold any water at the Naval Academy because it is a rarity for a midshipman to be retained after any positive drug test. To explain, according to data released by the Naval Academy, from Jan. 2004 - Jan. 2010, 19 midshipmen tested positive for drug use during routine urinalysis screening. Of those 19, 13 were separated as a result of it; four were separated for another offense; and only two were retained. Overall, of the 19 drug test failures, four were varsity football players. Two of those players were separated for failing the drug test; one was separated for other violations; and one was retained - presumably Curry.

 

On a quick side note, I think it is safe to say that any school in America would be proud if their student body only had 19 failed drug tests in a month, never mind six years. Clearly there is no widespread drug problem in Annapolis. So the major question I have now is what does the Naval Academy do with Curry and future varsity athletes who may unknowingly smoke marijuana or ingest another street drug and as a result fail a drug test but are not kicked out?

 

Some would suggest that this is an internal matter that the Academy does not need to discuss. Others would say that since the Superintendent retained Curry, it is evidence that he didn't do anything wrong at all.

 

I just can't buy either argument based on the fact that every school that plays in the Football Bowl Subdivision who responded to the NCAA survey and has a drug testing program in place takes some sort of action against a varsity athlete for failing a first drug test, regardless of the circumstances and the appeals process. 24% of these schools suspend the player from the team. 3% kick them off immediately. Even West Point's athletic department has their own drug policy for varsity athletes, separate from the U.S. Army's.

 

However, all indications are that at the Naval Academy, discipline in regards to a failed drug test administered by the school is a Bancroft Hall matter and not an athletic department one like at Georgia or Maryland.

 

Speaking of Georgia, as previously noted if Curry was a Bulldog, he would have been suspended from the team for two games first, but be able to appeal the case to the athletic director. At Navy, one could argue that his appeal went directly to the Superintendent. However the result of this process falls under the privacy law. And since the athletic department isn't answering questions about the matter, including whether or not Curry faces any discipline from the athletic director or coach, Navy finds itself in a unique category amongst its Football Bowl Subdivision peers. At Navy, how the school and the athletic department handle failed drug tests is not the public's business. But at schools like Georgia, Maryland and Notre Dame (the first three I researched) you get public comments and some form of discipline, regardless of the circumstances, from the athletic department. The reason for this is simple - those three athletic departments have drug policies. And so too should the Naval Academy athletic department.

 

There should be no denying the fact that this situation will happen again. There will be another varsity athlete at the Naval Academy who has the same defense as Curry, be it for a street drug or for steroids. And perhaps like Curry, it could lead to their retention instead of separation. But the next time, there should be a policy in place that would allow fans, alumni and even taxpayers know that failed drug tests are serious and come with consequences and accountability. At Maryland, for varsity athletes that means counseling. At Georgia, that means suspension from games. At Navy, it should mean both.

 

Here is what I recommend. If a midshipman varsity athlete fails a drug test, the following punishment is handed down immediately...and before any administrative procedures in Bancroft Hall.

 

First Offense

- Mandatory Education and Counseling by Naval Academy Drug and Alcohol Program Advisor.

 

- Suspension from all varsity athletic competitions for one full year from the date of the failed drug test.

 

- If the midshipman varsity athlete does not commit any other conduct offenses within six months, he/she could once again practice with the team.

 

All of the above disciplinary options in regards to varsity athletics should be on the table when the midshipman goes before the Superintendent. If the Superintendent decides to retain the varsity athlete then the Commandant, athletic director and coach should all be brought in to decide whether or not the circumstances surrounding the case still warrant any or all of the above penalties.

 

Some critics will say how do you know this didn't happen with Curry? Because if it did happen, the Naval Academy athletic department would have responded to direct questions about the incident instead of putting out generic statements. If some action was taken, why would the Naval Academy athletic department not answer a question about how seriously they take failed drug tests? If they had a policy in place, there would be no doubt. It's a simple fix to a complicated and rare occurrence.

 

In closing, I believe that failing a drug test should carry consequences for varsity athletes at the U.S. Naval Academy, just like it does at Maryland, Georgia, and Notre Dame. Of course almost all of the time, the Naval Academy athletic department won't have to think about this because midshipmen who fail their first drug test are kicked out of school. Well, at least 89.5 percent of the time they have been in the past six years.

 

Midshipman Curry made a mistake that could have cost him his future. Hopefully he has learned from it and can fulfill the goal of every midshipman who comes to Annapolis - to serve his/her country as a Naval or Marine Corps officer. Hopefully the Naval Academy athletic department can also learn from this unique set of circumstances and adopt a drug policy that sends the same strong message continually emphasized by their highly-respected football coach - varsity athletes are midshipmen first and they must do what is right in Bancroft Hall. If they don't, there are consequences and an intramural program available to them.

 

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David Ausiello is the senior writer at GoMids.com and a 1997 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. When he is not writing about Navy athletics, he works for the Drug Enforcement Administration. If you would like to contact him, feel free to send him an email.

 


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