It was only five years ago when Chuck Yesalis and a colleague proposed that all of the sports federations pool $100 million to end the escalating crisis of performance enhancing drugs in the sports world.

By Gus Bode

In the time of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s historic home run chase, a bottle of androstenedione found in the St. Louis Cardinals’ slugger’s locker opened a lot of eyes.

Yesalis, author of numerous books on drugs in sports, proposed to hand over this incredible sum to the best chemists in the world to develop tests to close what he says are loopholes in drug-testing systems of all of the major sports federations.

“The NCAA, IOC, NFL and all the other acronyms,” he said.

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“The sports federations, when they give two or three million dollars a year for research, they puff up their chests,” said Yesalis, an epidemiologist. “Well, any biomedical scientist will tell you that when you’re dealing with a major biomedical problem, two to three million dollars pretty much buys the paper clips and the folders and the rubber bands. It may even pay your phone bill but not much beyond that.

“Any notion that the NCAA can’t afford that, along with these other federations, is quite laughable given the multimillion-dollar TV contracts they sign.”

Five years later, Yesalis was present at the meeting on Capitol Hill when Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., addressed Major League Baseball on their weak steroid policy.

Once again, he didn’t like what he heard.

“They were telling baseball your faade is not good enough. You need to put up a faade like pro football has,” Yesalis said. “I believe there are no more pro baseball players using these drugs as a percent of the total as there are drug use among NFL athletes and Olympic athletes.”

Yesalis is a well-known critic of drug testing systems, including the one the NCAA employs. The NCAA began random drug testing in 1986 at championship events. In 1990 year-round testing was performed on football and track athletes.

While statistics show use of anabolics and other substances declined after testing began, athletes in sports for everything other than football and track are not tested for steroids unless they make the championships and sometimes not even then.

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“Obviously we don’t make the championships as often as a lot of schools,” said head SIU trainer Ed Thompson. “When we have made the championships, we’ve only been tested two of those six years and only once was in the first round.”

When the SIU men’s basketball team entered the NCAA tournament in 2001, Thompson said they were only tested when they reached the Sweet 16. The SIU football team, who reached the playoffs last season, was not tested before its first-round match-up with Delaware.

“If they’re insinuating they’re testing 64 teams a year, well, we know that they didn’t test us until it got down to 16,” Thompson said. “If they were [testing] 64, obviously that’s better than 16.”

Thompson said there has been nothing wrong with the procedure and that all of the NCAA’s tests have been accurate. The NCAA comes to the Carbondale campus at least once a year to test the men’s and women’s track teams as well as the football team. The NCAA tests for banned substances are under the following categories:anabolic steroids, stimulants, street drugs and diuretics.

Because the NCAA only tests during championships for programs other than track and football, SIU, as does just about every other school, has its own in-house testing system in which Saluki athletes are randomly tested in all sports for recreational drugs.

But testing for anabolic steroids, which is an extremely expensive procedure, is not part of the test.

The NCAA will begin randomly testing for all sports year-round beginning in August 2004, meaning athletes in sports other than football and track will be tested for steroids year-round. The widespread use of ephedrine prompted the NCAA to include all sports, not just prominent ones, in their testing program.

Frank Uryasz, president of Drug Free Sport of America, says the NCAA’s system is legitimate, especially compared with Major League Baseball’s, which has weak penalties and a substantial notice time. Drug Free Sport of America has performed drug testing for the NCAA since July of 1999.

“If you look at the NCAA program, it operates year-round and there are sanctions if you test positive,” Uryasz said. “You’ll lose a year of eligibility, which is a significant sanction. And third, the athletes are given short notice, usually 24 hours or less.”

When the NCAA begins year-round testing next season, Yesalis won’t be breathing any easier. He still knows that at the elite level, student-athletes still have the resources to cultivate illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

And frankly, he doesn’t think the NCAA cares.

“The fact of the matter is, not so much in college baseball but at the Division I level, what is in great part selling the business of college football as it stands right now are bigger than life athletes doing bigger than life things,” Yesalis said. “One might create a reasonably strong argument that steroid use and other performance enhancing drug use has been quite good for the business of the NCAA, as long as it’s not made public.”

Just as Yesalis’ stated, SIU baseball head coach Dan Callahan doesn’t think baseball, a non-revenue sport in the world of college athletics, is as problematic as the professional game.

He said he’s seen signs of it around but that it is all unsubstantiated. Senior center fielder Cory Newman, who played in the Cape Cod Summer League last summer, said one guy made him suspicious but that he doesn’t think of it as that big of a deal in the college game.

Yesalis, though, says college athletes will still be capable of getting around the system at the high Division I level, even with year-round testing in all sports. But he concedes it won’t be to the point of widespread use like in professional and Olympic sports.

“There are elite college athletes that can access such a system, but it is clearly not as common as it is in the pros where the salaries are very large and they can afford to hire experts to guide them through the system,” Yesalis said. “It’s the same loophole-laden testing system. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist. If you get a hold of growth hormone, you have no need to worry.”

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