UO adopts drug testing for athletes

Playing college football or participating in acrobatics while high on illegal drugs creates a "serious" risk of injury, according to the University of Oregon, which is why the administration five days ago decided to institute random drug testing of student-athletes as a deterrent, effective immediately.

The university previously had planned to consider random testing following a campus hearing in October. But UO General Counsel Randy Geller on Aug. 31 instituted the testing on a temporary but immediate basis Sept. 1 through Feb. 29.

The university had reason to believe that some of its athletes used drugs after an ESPN report in April detailed a culture of pot-smoking among Oregon football players. Also, in the summer of 2011, a football player told an Oregon State Police trooper during a traffic stop that he and others had smoked pot, after the trooper noted the smell.

"Fall sports were beginning, and we believed there was a compelling need for us to protect student-athletes," UO spokesman Phil Weiler said Wednesday in explaining the decision to institute random drug testing now. "We believe it's in the best interest of our student-athletes to make sure that we don't have people under the influence."

In July, the university had scheduled a public hearing for August in advance of adopting the new rules, but faculty members asked the administration to hold off until students and faculty returned to campus for fall term.

As a result of those concerns, the administration rescheduled the hearing for Oct. 3. Under long-standing rules, the UO can require student-athletes to take drug tests, but only with reasonable cause.

The UO constitution and other campus policies require consultation with the University Senate, which won't convene until fall, according to emeritus professor Frank Stahl.

"The general counsel is ignoring proper procedure by adopting policies without clearing them with the University Senate," Stahl said Wednesday. "He's out of line."

Weiler said students and faculty can still weigh in on the issue at the Oct. 3 hearing, slated for 1 p.m. in the Walnut Room at the Erb Memorial Union. In the meantime, student-athletes will be better protected from the risk of drug-addled players — themselves or others.

"This is erring on the side of safety for student-athletes," Weiler said.

Fall sports began in August, and already some of the university's 500 student-athletes have participated in games, including soccer, football and cross country. A golf tournament is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The document in support of the immediate temporary rules cites the university's participation in 18 highly competitive NCAA Division I sports. It highlights the dangers of acrobatics and football.

In acrobatics, Weiler said, "there are bodies that are literally flying through the air. The chance of injury if an athlete wasn't caught properly or supported properly is pretty high. You want to make sure people are not under the influence."

In football, the rulemaking document said, "student-athletes physically tackle and block one another, often times at full running speed. The risk of serious physical injury to student-athletes during competition and practice is substantially increased if student-athletes are under the influence of illicit drugs or performance-enhancing drugs."

Besides worries about injuries, the university is concerned about its liability and about public reaction, according to the document. The public "does not want" injuries to occur and it doesn't want the university to face sanctions for allowing student-athletes to compete while taking illicit or performance-enhancing drugs, the document states.

Athletes face a "four-strike" policy when caught using so-called recreational drugs. The first incident triggers "counseling and education about substance abuse," the second requires the signing of a "behavior modification contract," the third results in a half-season suspension and the fourth leads to dismissal from the team and loss of scholarship.

For performance-enhancing drugs, an athlete is suspended for a year after the first positive test, and dismissed after the second. An athlete is immediately dismissed if found to be selling or providing illegal drugs.

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