Sometime during Wednesday night's NBA Western Conference Final, former Michigan State and Notre Dame basketball player, Garrick Sherman, made some pretty audacious claims about the NCAA, his former coach Tom Izzo teammates and players throughout college basketball. Sherman had just finished his season abroad in the country of Georgia, had a few alcoholic beverages and was apparently in the mood to stir the pot.
While most of his Twitter rant was filled with random comments about Taylor Swift and "humorous" acecdotes about his time playing at MSU under Izzo, Sherman dropped a bomb that no one was expecting:
At first, this looked just like a random WTF moment, until he followed it up with an interesting perspective on how the NCAA handles drug testing and compliance among players. The NCAA is a business and it wouldn't be good for business if some of the best players in college weren't able to participate resulting in said business losing viewership and advertisers. But, does the organization have other viable options?
Is a more comprehensive drug test an option for NCAA athletes?
There are three types of standard drug testing: urine test, hair follicle test and blood test. While some provide a more thorough picture of the drug history of those tested, there are pros and cons to each of the tests.
These are the most common types of drug tests for employers, athletes and others. According to Quest Diagnostics, the test consists of either a five-panel screen for the presence of amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates and phencyclidine or a 9-panel screen for those listed in addition to barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methadone and propoxyphene.
Urine tests are often the go-to for organizations that have a lot of people needing tested and a quick turnaround of results. One drawback to this method is false positives; the test is unable to differentiate between natural occurring opioids and opiate drug use. The test also fails to provide data on drug levels present and can miss them completely if more than a week has passed since use.
Perhaps the biggest red flag to this drug testing method, as so eloquently put but Garrick Sherman, is the ability to cheat the test. Filling up a condom with urine is one way, but it definitely isn't the only way. Maybe the NCAA could monitor the tests better to avoid having to use another method; privacy is a privilege, not a right.
Cost per test: ~$42 for a 5-panel drug screen
Testing for drugs using the hair follicle is a much more accurate depiction of a person's current and past drug use, with a better and deeper look into the history of use. Players with shaved heads would still have to participate as results can come from any hair on the body. Sample collection is relatively easy and doesn't require any sort of invasive treatment. While this option could work on a large scale and be less prone to cheating and errors, there are several considerable issues with this method of testing as well.
The biggest problem with this type of drug testing is that results can be affected by hair color and type of shampoo used. According to the United States Drug Testing Laboratories, Inc, "Hair color, not race, is one of the most important variables in determining the quantity of drug found in the hair. Dark hair binds drug tighter than light hair."
Cost per test: ~$89
Blood drug tests are typically reserved for those working in the medical profession (having patient contact) or for those who have an accident on the job. Drawing blood is a much longer procedure and requires more medical training to facilitate than the other drug test options.
Cost per test: Varies - most off-site testing facilities don't provide blood drug testing, so pricing would be dependent on the health care facility drawing the blood.
While the NCAA could certainly try new methods to ensure that the student athletes aren't cheating these tests, they should probably consider monitoring the testing a little better before pulling out the checkbook. The other options are more involved, take longer and cost significantly more money (especially on a larger scale), but that doesn't mean the current method doesn't need revisited.