Failing a combine drug test? Now that's stupid

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the strangest mysteries in professional football, hell, one of the strangest things in all of sports is the confounding, maddening, mind-boggling failed drug test at the NFL combine.

Players are invited to the combine weeks in advance and know the NFL will test them for a variety of illicit substances and performance enhancing concoctions. Still, over the years, there has been a long line of failed tests despite the combine attendees knowing the tests were coming.

It's only a matter of time before the names of players who failed drug tests are leaked to the press again. It's an annual ritual.

Former USC tight end Anthony McCoy was among those who reportedly was flagged for pot at last year's combine. (Getty Images)  
Former USC tight end Anthony McCoy was among those who reportedly was flagged for pot at last year's combine. (Getty Images)  
The question has long been asked: Why would a kid light up a joint knowing he was soon going to be tested? Or stick a needle in his rear? Or snort something or drink something knowing that testing was coming?

As the combine winds down and teams begin to sort through the sprints and broad jumps and, yes, drug test results, part of the answer may be found in some informal polling of 25 attendees to this year's combine by CBSSports.com.

The players were asked one question: Is their college's drug testing program effective? Twelve said no, seven stated yes and the remaining six declined to answer or were uncertain. The players said they'd provide answers on the condition their identities not be revealed.

This lack of fear, several players explained, was because they didn't do drugs and had no reason to be concerned over testing. But the majority said their lack of concern over drug testing at their colleges was due to the belief that testing was ineffectual. In short, these players believed if they did drugs in college, they would not get caught by the system.

When an NFL combine prospect was asked if he feared his college's drug testing program, he answered succinctly: "Not really."

While the CBSSports.com poll is far from scientific it may still explain why a significant number of players fail drug tests at the combine despite knowing the approximate date of when they'll be tested. They may mistakenly believe the NFL's stringent testing programs are as lackadaisical as they seem to think the colleges' are.

Last year alone, several players reportedly tested positive for illicit substances at the combine. According to numerous reports, USC tight end Anthony McCoy tested positive at the combine for marijuana. Not long before that names like Percy Harvin and Brandon Tate were reported to have failed combine drug tests.

There have been dozens of players who flunked combine tests for everything from marijuana to amphetamines to steroids despite knowing they were going to the combine and faced testing.

One prospect, when asked about testing at his school, replied, "What testing?" He then walked away.

In December, Iowa was forced to admit serious flaws and inconsistencies in its drug program following the drug-related arrest of wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. The charges included possession of controlled substances, keeping a drug house and unlawful possession of a prescription drug. In January, he pled guilty to marijuana possession.

Athletic director Gary Barta said at the time the athletic department reviewed its testing program after Johnson-Koulianos' arrest and found "pretty strong evidence" that student-athletes likely found ways to get around the tests. "We have not caught anybody getting around the system," Barta said at the time. "Unfortunately, there's enough evidence in our protocol to say we have to tighten up. It's pretty likely that someone -- I don't know if it's one or 21 -- someone has gotten around this process. And if it's only one, it makes you doubt all testing."

The NCAA has two major drug testing programs. In one, they randomly test players year-round for performance enhancing drugs and masking agents only, according to the NCAA's website. In the second, they test the travel roster of teams during postseason events for PEDs, masking agents and illicit drugs like marijuana or heroin.

Despite the fact many individual schools add their own random testing (some big-time programs like Ohio State say their own testing programs are extensive), there remain potential holes, some the size of a football stadium. If an individual school fails to add more thorough testing, and went only by the NCAA's, theoretically a player could use heroine during the regular season, for example, and never get caught since during the season the NCAA only randomly tests for PEDs.

So the guess is this. Players fail these combine tests despite knowing they're coming not because the players are stupid (well, maybe partly they are) or, on a more serious note, perhaps truly addicted to some of them, but also because some of the players might come from a lax testing system.

It's been ingrained in them for years that drug testing is a sham and they can't change that mentality overnight.

Schools that claim they test stringently maybe actually don't (stunner). Player gets used to relaxed testing atmosphere, smokes a little dope, thinks combine drug testing is like his school's and then he's busted.

So get ready for the next batch of leaked drug test results. They're coming. If some of these players didn't fear their college drug testing programs, they probably should now.


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