Sports and drugs have been linked closely together for many years, with drug testing regularly lagging behind as it relates to drug usage amongst athletes. The old "test when you suspect" model appears to be changing, however, as the University of Oregon is about to take the most aggressive position ever witnessed when it comes to college student athletes and drug usage: 365 day random drug screenings of student athletes.
Earlier this year ESPN reported that as many as 60% of the student athletes at the University of Oregon smoke marijuana. As a result, school officials have adopted a new, test-anytime policy that may end up doing more harm than good upon closer inspection. In fact, it may open Pandoras Box and end up presenting an entirely new set of problems, especially as they pertain to athletic department revenues (more on that in a little bit).
From a philosophical position, it's always been a fuzzy area when it comes to athletes and their usage of recreational drugs. On the one hand, these drugs (like marijuana) do not offer any special advantages when it comes to on-field success (like how performance enhancing drugs do), so many would argue there is no point in testing for recreational drugs. On the other hand, those who hold a higher moral position and believe it is a privilege for student athletes to receive scholarships argue that drugs are illegal, and that testing for them is important in order to maintain a safe and morally sound program.
Lets assume for a moment you side with the "recreational drugs are wrong" position, and believe student athletes should be exposed to 365/24/7 random testing as a result. If you feel this way, should school administrators and other school personnel be tested, too? What about those outspoken, pro-drug liberal professors?! If drugs are wrong (and illegal), why wouldn't all school employees be held to the same drug testing standard?
A similar "recreational drugs are wrong" argument has been waged outside of sports in the public forum between welfare recipients and government employees. More specifically, many people have argued that anyone receiving welfare should be drug tested. The assertion is that people receiving public assistance should have to live more responsibly in order to receive free money, and therefore should not use drugs. If you feel this way, do you also feel all state government employees should be randomly drug tested, too? State employees are paid through public taxes, making it an interesting and compelling argument that they should be tested as well.
Regardless of how you feel about drug testing, one thing is almost certain to happen when the University of Oregon opens Pandoras Box with their new random drug testing policies: A lot of student athletes are going to become immediately ineligible (in fact, as many as 60% of them if the ESPN report is accurate). Think about that for a moment -- more than half of the University of Oregon's student athletes will face immediate suspensions, which will inevitably be the first domino knocked over that will eventually impact the athletic department fiscal bottom line in ways the university has never before witnessed. The million dollar question, Oregon, is do you really want to know how many of your revenue producing employees (sorry, "student athletes") are smoking weed??
Please keep in mind I am not advocating for student athletes to use drugs (performance or recreational), nor am I suggesting whether schools (or states for that matter) should drug test. What I am saying, however, is that some considerations should be taken into account with more aggressive random drug testing:
1.) If you want to routinely test student athletes, you should be fair an test all school employees. The argument that student athletes are privileged to receive scholarships only goes so far -- if it's about legal and moral concerns, then all school employees should be tested and face similar consequences if they are found to have used.
2.) Watch what you ask for because you might just get it - if half your students are suspected of using, it's going to hit your bottom line worse than any NCAA "Death penalty" ever could. Not only are you going to lose a lot of your current student athletes to suspensions, but you can bet future talented student athletes who like to smoke marijuana are not going to add Oregon to their potential college wish list. Without talented student athletes, teams are not as successful, gate and apparel revenues decline, and employees lose jobs.
There are reasons why no other NCAA school has chosen to be as aggressive with random drug testing as what the University of Oregon is proposing, for better or for worse. Should more schools start "pulling back the curtain," or are they much smarter to "leave a sleeping dog lie" when it comes to delving into what student athletes do on their own time?