Thursday, September 6, 2012

University Of Oregon Begins Mandatory Drug Testing for Athletes

The University of Oregon is initiating mandatory random drug testing of all of its student athletes this fall. The new temporary policy, which will be reviewed by the university following a public hearing next month, was spurred by an article in ESPN The Magazine that reported high rates of marijuana use on the school’s football team.

Under the new rule, the university may test for both recreational and performance-enhancing drugs, with the following parameters:

Now, all student-athletes are subject to “unannounced random drug testing throughout the entire year, including summer sessions,” according to the proposed changes. A random number system is being used to select student-athletes, who will receive “little or no notice” about a test. […] 
The athletic department will continue to test for illicit substances and performance-enhancing drugs. Tests will be done “through independent laboratory analysis of urine or oral fluid samples,” according to the proposal. 
The department’s penalty system for a failed drug test remains the same. 
The failed test for illicit drugs results in mandatory counseling, substance abuse education and psychological evaluation. A second failed test results in the player signing a behavioral modification contract. A third failed test results in suspension for 50 percent of the season. A fourth failed test results in dismissal from the team and forfeiture of scholarship.

If made permanent, the policy would replace the school’s current approach of testing only “on the basis of individualized reasonable suspicion” – language that mirrors the constitutional requirement for conducting a “search” under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Typically, the Constitution only permits searches when there is at least “individualized reasonable suspicion” that a particular person is engaged in wrongdoing. Only under special circumstances are states exempt from this requirement, and it is not clear that any such circumstance applies here.

While the Supreme Court upheld mandatory drug testing for high school athletes, who are deemed children subject to protection by the schools, and for those whose jobs pose a significant threat to public safety, it has not recognized a similar exception for adult students. And although college officials may disagree about whether recreational marijuana use is beneficial to college athletes, it is difficult to imagine what sort of imminent public safety threat it poses.

Just last year, a Missouri federal judge blocked a policy that would have imposed mandatory drug testing on all college students at Linn State Technical College. That ruling came just a day after a federal judge in Florida blocked the state’s mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients — one of several decisions to strike down random drug testing in other contexts.

UO, however, would not be the first public university to implement such a policy. And the NCAA has its own drug-testing policy, which includes mandatory testing only at NCAA championship events and football games.

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