Drug policy better, associate AD says

Published September 6, 2006

TAMPA - It's not an easy sell, but Barry Clements thinks less severe penalties for drug violations are best for USF athletes.

Clements, an associate athletic director at USF, was responsible for overseeing a change this summer that softened the athletic program's three-strikes-and-you're-out substance abuse policy, lowering the suspension assessed for a second positive drug test from 50 percent of a season to 20 percent.

Clements said the change - reversing a shift from 20 to 50 percent made a year earlier - came after consulting with the National Center for Drug-Free Sports, which oversees drug testing for many universities, including USF.

"They told us it was too much of a jump from zero to 50 percent," Clements said. "We want to change behaviors, and they believe if you penalize too much, you lose them instead of getting them focused. When you take away the only thing they may have that's positive, they can really drop off as a result."

Twenty percent is "probably the norm" nationally for a second offense, Drug-Free Sports president Frank Uryasz said, and other schools have found success with lessening their penalties, as USF has done.

The effectiveness of a program, however, is a function of its penalties and the frequency of testing. And the Bulls aren't administering as many drug tests as most Division I-A programs. USF athletes took a total of 273 drug tests from July 2005 to August 2006. The I-A average from a 2003 survey conducted by the NCAA was 426.

Limitations on drug tests are often financial, Uryasz said. A "street drug" test costs at least $20 to $25, and an anabolic steroid test can run as much as $150.

USF has taken major strides toward a more thorough drug policy under third-year athletic director Doug Woolard, Clements said. This summer's changes added separate language that addresses steroid use, in which a second violation results in loss of a scholarship.

Kicking a player off a team isn't always an end to the problems for the university. In June, quarterback Carlton Hill and two former football players were arrested on campus for possession of marijuana. One of those former players, Devon Davis, had been dismissed from the football team in spring 2005 after being arrested on a separate drug charge with two other teammates - both now gone - in 2004.

Although USF officials won't comment on the specific reasons, three football players who were contending for starting jobs entering the fall were suspended from the Bulls' season opener Saturday for an unspecified violation of team rules. They're expected to miss this week's game with Florida International as well.

USF's change in its drug policy comes in a year in which the Bulls have faced negative publicity associated with arrests for driving under the influence. First-year graduate assistant Mike Simmonds, a longtime head coach at Jefferson High, was arrested on a DUI charge in February, and senior Will Bleakley, the team's starting tight end, was arrested on the same charge early Tuesday.

Again, it's not that USF isn't trying to work on the problem.

Bleakley's arrest came just eight days after Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks addressed all of USF's athletes, speaking about the importance of making good decisions.

THIS AND THAT: The volleyball team's 2-2 start, with sweeps of Illinois-Chicago and UTEP this weekend, is encouraging for a team that opened 1-14 last season. Sophomore Marcela Gurgel leads the Big East with 5.2 kills per game. Senior Juliana Nogueira is fifth in assists with 12 per game. ... With six goals in her first three matches, USF's Lindsay Brauer is the Big East's scoring leader in soccer. ... To put this week's football opponent, FIU, in perspective, just two years ago the Panthers lost a home game to last week's Bulls opponent, Division I-AA McNeese State. SI.com ranks all 119 I-A programs, and this week FIU is No. 117. USF is No. 54, three spots behind Central Florida.

Greg Auman covers USF athletics for the Times. He can be reached at auman@sptimes.com and check out his USF blog at blogs.tampabay.com/usf.