Cal Poly

Cal Poly did minimal drug testing of athletes because of costs

Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh talks to players Tuesday about how they should prepare for the upcoming season after the second practice since an off-campus incident Sunday that led to the arrests of five players on the team.
Cal Poly football head coach Tim Walsh talks to players Tuesday about how they should prepare for the upcoming season after the second practice since an off-campus incident Sunday that led to the arrests of five players on the team.

Citing cost as a significant factor, Cal Poly spent only about $2,000 drug testing 41 student athletes, mostly football players, for banned substances over the past year.

But university athletic director Don Oberhelman said Friday that “cost will not be a factor going forward” in the random drug testing of Cal Poly’s 540 student athletes this year.

Looking ahead, Oberhelman and Cal Poly officials are planning an extensive series of measures they hope will prevent student athletes from using drugs or getting involved in criminal activity connected with narcotics.

Cal Poly’s new measures include increasing both the frequency of drug testing for student athletes and expanding the types of drugs tested for; intensifying examinations of players’ characters during recruiting; and seeking an external review to examine the culture of Cal Poly’s football program.

The measures come after Cameron Akins, a wide receiver, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of holding Delta Sigma Phi fraternity members at gunpoint early that morning.

Four other Cal Poly football players — Kristaan Sterling Ivory, Cortland Josiah Fort, Dominique Alize Love, and Jake Anthony Brito — were also taken into custody on suspicion of planning or carrying out the robbery. They have all been released on bail.

The District Attorney’s Office has not filed charges against any of the five students, although an arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 25 in San Luis Superior Court. San Luis Obispo police said they are continuing to investigate the incident, which they said may have been drug-related.

The five players remain suspended indefinitely from the football team.

Team culture

The external review of the football program could be carried out by a team composed of retired law enforcement and drug counselors, among others, Oberhelman said. They will conduct confidential interviews with players on the culture of the program, and whether drug activity may be more widespread.

In hindsight, Oberhelman said some of the players among the group arrested “should not have been at Cal Poly.”

“I know the community is not happy and there’s skepticism,” Oberhelman said. “We’ve had a little time to retrospect and think about how we can do things better. This is not a mistake that will repeat.”

San Luis Obispo police Chief Steve Gesell previously said the recent robbery attempt bore striking similarities to a drug deal gone wrong tied to a former 2013 football player involving the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.

More drug testing planned

Oberhelman said the university plans to conduct three waves of student-athlete drug testing in the fall quarter.

Also, the new student-athlete drug test will introduce a search for traces of benzodiazepine, the psychiatric prescription drug used in Xanax, which Oberhelman said has not been banned by the NCAA but is still against the department policy if used illegally.

“We’ll be talking to our counseling program and people at the national level familiar with what drugs we might add to our list,” Oberhelman said. “Drug testing is more about a deterrent for athletes to ever consider using banned substances.”

Oberhelman said it has not yet been determined how much money will be spent on drug testing in the future. The total sports medicine budget – which includes bandages and wraps for injured athletes as well as drug testing funding – was $32,408 last year, he said.

He said increased testing this year could reach athletes in all sports, and drug testing will intensify for those teams that show positive results of banned substances.

The more comprehensive scope of drug testing planned for this year at Cal Poly will raise the cost to administer each test to about $90 from $50, Oberhelman said.

Larger trends

Cal Poly’s athletic director said he heard anecdotally that members of the football team use marijuana recreationally. But further conversations through the external review will need to determine the scope of the prevalence, he noted.

Illegal use of prescription drugs such as Xanax and Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, may be attractive to athletes and students alike because they believe the drugs enable them to focus better, he said.

“The use of these kinds of drugs nationwide appears to be trending more than performance-enhancing drugs, partly I think, because the testing for PEDs has become quite advanced and sophisticated,” Oberhelman said.

The consensus among eight recent or former football players who spoke with The Tribune this week is that marijuana smoking is widespread among the team, with estimates ranging between 40 and 60 percent. But they said daily smoking was on par with campus-wide trends.

Reports also seem to indicate that testing athletes for marijuana is minimal nationwide. A 2012 investigation by ESPN stated that out of 400,000 collegiate athletes, about 0.6 percent will be tested for marijuana by the NCAA.

The responsibility to uncover and punish illegal use of street drugs is left to the individual universities; the NCAA does not set a minimum standard for testing frequency, nor does it specify or enforce a percentage of athletes to be tested.

Recruitment changes

Over the past week, Cal Poly’s athletic department has discussed how best to prevent another situation like the arrests of the five football players, which has caused the university “a black eye,” Oberhelman said.

He said that recruiting can be difficult because players from supportive, structured family and high school backgrounds can unpredictably fall into trouble in a different college environment.

Sitting down with players’ families and communicating with coaches can help root out players with character flaws. Although coaches at Cal Poly already do that, Oberhelman said, they will intensify their focus on a recruit’s potential to create problems once at the university.

Oberhelman said that he has complete faith in head football coach Tim Walsh’s recruiting and leadership abilities.

“I do want to point out that 95 other guys on the football team haven’t been accused of anything,” Oberhelman said. “I stood shoulder to shoulder with Coach Walsh this week and told them that we believed in them.”

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