Avoiding a ‘Roid (Out)rage
by Adam Shandler
A Cautionary Piece On How Performance-Enhancing Drugs Might Affect College Hoops
I hope I don’t have to write a follow-up to this column.
Consider this particular piece not an attempt at whistle-blowing or paranoia or rabble rousing. It’s merely a heads-up to all fans, monitors, players and stewards of college basketball.
Over the summer, it seemed that the sports pages, radio airwaves and cathode rays of our TV sets were stained with talk about steroid use in baseball. When Ken Caminiti and other players first came out in Sports Illustrated and admitted that they took illegal performance enhancing drugs, it started a veritable brushfire of concern, bitterness and knee-jerk reactions towards reforms. Steroids in baseball? Such a natural game? Isn’t steroids a football problem? And we all soon learned that this was going on for over a decade. The horror.
Right now — or at least as far as we know — college hoops does not have a juice problem, but the needle (pardon the pun, please) points to several factors that could lead to one, and the NCAA best be prepared to deal with it if and when it breaks.
First off, some of the best college players are leaving school early, which creates a real open sore for potential steroid use. For players, the mental timeline for winning a national championship has been cut short, from four to two years. Desperation sets in. Players want to be bigger, stronger, faster — faster. If these guys are going to spin their wheels with a couple years of college ball, they may as well make the time worthwhile. And performance-enhancing drugs can give these players that edge for a title run in a remarkably short period of time.
And how many times have we watched the draft on TNT and heard Pitino and Hubie Brown pontificating on how some of these players are so lean that they need an intense weight regimen once they cross over into “The Next Level.” We’ve heard that ol’ ballad about no one being able to guard Shaq (just ask Todd McCullough), keep up with Kobe or sky like Vince Carter. It’s quite feasible to think that some of these newbies don’t want to waste time developing when they get to the NBA. They want to be ready. Enter the dubious option of steroid use, yet again.
Then there’s the competition for earning a spot on an NBA team. Granted, it’s not like auditioning for the Rockettes, but let’s face it, it’s getting pretty tight in there. Though risky, pro scouts are in fact skulking around high school gymnasiums looking for the next Kobe or Garnett. And the international basketball panoply, which marketed itself so well this summer at the FIBA championships in Indy, has closed a few more doors to the homegrown college standout. Sure, skills are great, but the NBA is a power game and getting bigger, higher (in an aerial sense) and quicker by the day. When values are compromised and dreams of being the Warriors’ or Clippers’ or Hawks’ (or whomever happens to be the ping-pong ball of the year) become an obsession, the borderline would-be pro might look to more precarious performance-enhancing options.
Like I said, this isn’t an issue, and hopefully it will never be. But logic seems to dictate that with the Final Four, next to the Super Bowl, being the preeminent sporting event in the U.S. and the fickle but fanciful charms of the NBA with its Ahmad Rashad interviews as the next rung, college hoops would seem most exposed to a steroid plague.
The NCAA does have a drug-testing program in place but, because of previous black eyes in this category, the tests are more frequent and more stringent for the sports of football and track and field. Still, according to the NCAA’s substance testing web page, “17% of the athletes surveyed said that the threat of NCAA drug testing discouraged them from using banned substances (31.2% said they would not have used banned substances regardless;).” Overall, only 3% of athletes in this group were busted, down 6.7% from 1989, so the program for this group does seem to have some merit.
Before college hoops becomes the next steroid-gate, the NCAA needs to implement a rolling, random substance-abuse testing program similar to the one used for football and track and field athletes. If these “pop quizzes” will deter athletes in sports where brute strength and speed are the core essence of the game, then surely they could help the college hoopster “just say no” as well. The athletes need to be educated that missing a year of eligibility means possibly missing a chance at a national title or the pros. Of course, death is always a pretty good deterrent, but the young have a way of feeling invincible, “too smart for that”, or impervious to the dangers that felled “other people.”
And a crackdown on athletes means a crackdown on coaches too. They should not be allowed to look the other way. It’s just as easy for a coach to let things slide when he’s got a 15-game winning streak going. Integrity for the game — for the job — should not be kicked in the groin like it has been so many times in this sport. Penalties need to be put in place that close off the loopholes that coaches jump through every time a scandal is exposed. Heck, corporate CEOs would be held accountable, why not coaches.
On a more serious note, ABC’s “8 Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter”, starring John Ritter, has CANCELLED written all over it. I give it 3 weeks.