Take steroids out of college football

Oregon State played Texas in the Alamo Bowl on Saturday, and Oregon is making final preparations for its Fiesta Bowl showdown with Kansas State on Thursday.

Those bowl games, two of a plethora, are just the warm-up act to the national championship game itself, to be played Monday night between Notre Dame and Alabama.

But at what price will Americans be getting their annual dose of post-holiday football entertainment?

An investigative report released in December by The Associated Press shows that steroid use is almost certainly highly prevalent among the nation's college football players who compete in the top-level leagues. Despite statements from college programs that they both endorse and enforce a ban on the use of steroids, patterns of dramatic growth in the size of players -- and particularly their muscle mass -- from the time they enter a college football program until they leave provide compelling evidence that steroids are being widely used.

While young men do continue to grow during their college years, and nutrition and weight-training can enhance growth, the AP report notes that many weight gains were so dramatic that without steroids the odds of them happening "were roughly the same as an NFL quarterback throwing 12 passing touchdowns or an NFL running back rushing for 600 yards in one game." In other words, nearly zero.

Professional sports such as baseball and cycling have endured their own drug scandals. The chief issue there has been fairness: Athletes who play by the rules and don't use banned substances have had to compete against those gaining an unfair advantage by cheating.

Along with its skewing of fair competition, the use of anabolic steroids in college sports is banned because the drugs are linked to numerous ill effects, including serious physical and mental problems.

But the AP investigation found that colleges are much more likely to test for the use of marijuana or other illegal "recreational" drugs than for steroids. Tests for these other drugs are much less expensive than tests for steroids. But the paucity of steroid testing also raises questions as to whether schools look the other way at steroid use because it increases their teams' chances of victory on the field.

What can be done? Rather than a patchwork of individual enforcement schemes at individual institutions, schools could adopt the more rigorous testing regime used by the NFL. Through a NCAA requirement, they could impose mandatory suspensions on players who test positive for steroids.

Cleaning up steroid use in the college game would promote fair competition and protect the health of athletes.

--Christian Science Monitor


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