By Eric Olson
Maybe this week’s drug bust at TCU shouldn’t surprise anyone.
National Center for Drug Free Sport vice president Andrea Wickerham said the arrests of four football players among 15 TCU students and four former students on suspicion of selling marijuana is symbolic of an increasing pot problem in college athletics.
She said she hopes administrators across the nation are paying attention.
“I hope they don’t see this event at TCU as an isolated incident. It’s not,” she said. “The question is, ‘What does TCU do about it?’ and what do other college administrators do?”
The arrests at TCU came Wednesday, just a month after the NCAA said that 22.6 percent of 20,474 student-athletes participating in an anonymous survey in 2009 admitted to using marijuana the previous 12 months. That number was up from 21.2 percent in 2005.
Among the most high-profile sports, across all divisions, 26.7 percent of football players admitted in 2009 to using marijuana the previous year.
The report has been done every four years since 1985 and alcohol always has been the overwhelming substance of choice. Marijuana is No. 2. The NCAA tests for marijuana at its championship events and football bowl games but not in its year-round testing program that has been in place since 1990.
Wickerham said testing is the most effective deterrent and works best if it is consistently irregular.
“You want to test often enough so athletes truly believe they have a likelihood of being selected,” she said. “If you’re only doing it once a semester, or if you do it only when you hear about a bad event, that’s not a huge deterrent over time.”
More than 90 percent of the schools in Division I, more than 50 percent in Division II and about 20 percent in Division III have drug-testing programs, NCAA associate director of educational affairs Mary Wilfert said. Many offer counseling and treatment programs for those who test positive. It is common for an athlete to be suspended for a year, or permanently, after a third positive test.
Still, the evidence shows marijuana use is on the rise, despite what Wilfert said was an intensified effort the past four or five years to curb its use.
The NCAA and athletic departments are exploring ways to keep athletes from using marijuana or stopping the activity. Wilfert said peer intervention has become a popular tactic, with non-using athletes talking to marijuana-using teammates about the potential risks.
TCU said in a statement Wednesday that it tests its athletes for drug use “on a regular basis.” Osborne said.
Wickerham and athletic administrators said they have discussed whether more lax laws for possession in some states and increased use of medical marijuana hasled to more acceptance of pot in society at large. Chris Herren, a former player at Fresno State who struggled with cocaine and marijuana in college and during his brief stay in the NBA, said some athletes might look at marijuana as an escape from the pressure to perform.
“A kid goes to an AAU tournament and then reads 10 minutes after the game he’s not worthy of a scholarship or that he doesn’t jump high enough. It’s got to be detrimental,” Herren said. “Adults, if they were critiqued day in and day out about their performance at work, usually that results in them stopping off for a glass of wine or beer after a stressful day. So what does a 14- or 15-year-old do? They tend to search other avenues.”