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Originally published Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 8:17 AM

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AP survey: College drug-testing all over the map

When it comes to college sports and drug testing, policies are as varied as the schools themselves.

AP National Writer

When it comes to college sports and drug testing, policies are as varied as the schools themselves.

An Associated Press survey of measures used by the NCAA, conferences and more than 50 schools to keep steroids and performance-enhancing drugs out of sports found policies all over the map - with no consistency or integrated strategy to tie them together.

While the NCAA runs an umbrella drug-testing program, the conferences vary widely in what they do to augment those rules. Some, like the Big Ten, have extensive guidelines that closely mirror the NCAA's. Others have nothing and say they simply adhere to the NCAA, which tests athletes on campus and at postseason events it sanctions, including the Final Four this week.

The AP sent out requests for information about drug-testing policies at 76 universities - 73 in the six biggest conferences and three mid-major teams ranked in the Top 25 in the Feb. 28 AP men's basketball poll. It received responses from 51.

Some policies - like the one at Florida - were stringent, booting athletes who test positive for steroids into Phase IV of its sanction program, which calls for missing at least 50 percent of the season. Others barely mentioned performance-enhancing drugs. Not a single school's drug policy submitted to the AP read exactly the same as another - even within conferences and states - and the majority appeared much more concerned with curbing recreational drug use than steroids.

"They have programs," said Gary Wadler of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "Some are related to conferences, some related to championships, some depend on sports, some depend on drugs. But has anyone really taken a serious look at the NCAA the way we've looked at the NFL and Major League Baseball? The answer is no. For a long time, I've been mystified by that."

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said developing good drug-testing programs "is an evolving process."

"As institutions, it seems we're always playing catch-up," Hollis said. "The effectiveness and costs of testing provide great challenges."

The NCAA program calls for at least one drug-testing visit to every Division I and Division II campus each school year - in which a number of athletes from various sports can be tested. The NCAA, which says it sanctions about 400,000 athletes across all divisions, administered about 11,000 tests in 2008-09, the most recent period for which statistics are available.

Beginning in August, a new NCAA rule will require all Division I schools to designate a staff member who can answer questions about dietary supplements and banned drugs.

The reputable National Center for Drug-Free Sport runs the NCAA testing program but does it according to guidelines approved by the NCAA, not the code established by WADA. The NCAA's rules about advance notice, independence in judging cases and transparency skew far from the WADA rules, which are what some of the most-respected experts view as best practices. When asked, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency refused to run the NCAA's testing program.

The issue of doping in college sports was most vividly brought to light last year when Canada's Waterloo University shut down its football program for a season after nine players tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

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Bob Copeland, the athletic director who ordered the entire team tested after one player was arrested for possession and trafficking anabolic steroids, was roundly criticized for his vigilance when the case broke. But the positive tests vindicated him.

In an interview with the AP, Copeland cited studies that say between 4 and 6 percent of high school students knowingly use anabolic steroids. He believes that if it was happening at his Canadian university, it's logical to think it's happening in the United States, where college sports are much bigger in almost every respect.

"If you had a mathematician looking at it from a purely logical point of view, you'd draw the conclusion that you'd think it's happening somewhere," Copeland said. "But you don't really know until you have a testing system that's rigorous, unannounced, with a lot of testing happening at different periods throughout the year."

U.S. college sports, though, have produced very little news about steroid problems. In the past year, only one case involving performance-enhancing drugs has made significant headlines - and they came and went quickly.

At almost the same time the Waterloo case produced the first North American athlete to test positive for human growth hormone, a University of Miami baseball player was charged with possession of marijuana and 19 vials of human growth hormone. He was dismissed from the team, and every member of the team was tested, with no one showing any indication of either recreational or performance-enhancing drug usage.

The AP review found Miami's drug-testing program to be one of the more stringent, calling for a minimum of three urine tests a year and automatic suspensions after the first positive test.

But there was nothing in the policy that called for blood testing. It was not included in any of the college policies reviewed by the AP. Part of that is because of expense - which can range up to $800 per test including collection, testing and analysis - and part of it is because "there are a lot of challenges to collecting blood," said Mary Wilfert, the NCAA's associate director of health and safety.

"We don't think we're at a point yet where we believe it's considered critical to do it, and membership hasn't demanded it yet," Wilfert said.

Neither the NFL nor Major League Baseball has blood testing, either - considered by experts to be a major flaw in their programs.

Among the NCAA program's other perceived weaknesses are lack of no-advance-notice testing and a penalty structure that calls for a one-year suspension for a first offense, as opposed to two under the WADA code.

Wilfert says the association's sanctioning policy is based on the fact that college players only have four years of eligibility, while at the Olympic level "participation is for as long as the body can manage it."

On the lack of no-advance-notice testing - something WADA experts consider crucial but is nonetheless rarely seen outside the Olympic movement - Wilfert conceded the NCAA has not reached that point, "but if you believe you could be tested at any time, you're less likely to use."

Wilfert said the NCAA, as in all things it oversees, molds policies according to what members desire.

Judging by a recent NCAA survey about drug-testing in sports, there's only lukewarm interest. In 2009, the NCAA sent out about 1,000 49-question surveys and received responses from only 45 percent of the schools.

Of those who responded, 54 percent said they had their own drug-testing program in place. That number jumped to 98 percent - 55 of 56 respondents - for schools in Division I BCS football. But of those, only 18 percent tested for anabolic steroids, while 99 percent tested for marijuana and cocaine.

Michigan, with one of the nation's biggest athletic departments, is one of the few schools that tests for performance-enhancing drugs.

"It's a very complete test that covers not only recreational drugs, but also steroids and the misuse of prescription drugs and other drugs deemed illegal or as performance-enhancers by the NCAA," said Wolverines athletic director Dave Brandon "Our student-athletes and coaches know we don't just talk the talk. We walk the walk."

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AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit and Tim Reynolds in Miami contributed to this report.

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