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University of Oregon eyes mandatory random drug testing of student-athletes

In the aftermath of ESPN reports that over 50% of the football team smokes marijuana, Rob Moseley reports that the University is seeking to change Oregon administrative rules to allow a policy for mandatory random drug testing of all student-athletes. The details, according to Moseley:

Under the proposed policy, “all student-athletes are subject to unannounced random drug testing throughout the entire year, including summer sessions,” according to the proposal the UO released to The Register-Guard on Friday. “Student-athletes will be selected for testing using a random number system. Little or no notice may be given for a forthcoming test. Every student-athlete shall be subject to random tests administered under these rules.”

A urine or “oral fluids” sample will be collected and separated into A and B samples. If the A sample shows traces of an illicit substance or performance-enhancing drug, an athlete will be able to request that the B sample be tested, at his or her own cost.

The current UO policy, in accordance with current state law, allows the University to test student athletes only when there is "reasonable suspicion." Consequences that don't involve game suspensions until a third positive test will remain in effect even if the new policy is implemented.

I do believe that the policy will be effective in limiting its use, therefore avoiding the kind of PR fallout that the department suffered in the aftermath of the ESPN article. However, it is sure to spark controversy about privacy rights, and I question the athletic department's proposal for paying for this program.

I have personal experience with this issue as, in my senior year at Oakridge High School, the school implemented random testing of student athletes. It definitely works as a deterrent, as I witnessed drug use (overwhelmingly marijuana) plumment among the basketball team that season from the year before, although the policy created a whirlwind of controversy in the community.

Such controversies inevitably center on questions of privacy rights. Certainly, to drug test random students would violate that as everyone has access to use of a public institution. No such right exists to be a part of an athletic team, where following a set of team rules is a condition of participation, and when you are being given compensation in the form of a scholarship to represent that institution in a very public manner. Once you choose to accept that scholarship, you choose to play by those rules. I have no personal objections to individuals using marijuana. However, as long as use remains illegal, an organization has a vested interest in ensuring that its representatives in the public eye aren't using. Of course the players have no say in the testing program, but thats not something unique to this instance. That's the case for everything to do with college athletics. Most other universities have a similar program, and Oregon State is also ready to jump on board with it.

My biggest problem, both as a fan and a citizen, is how the athletic department proposes to pay for it:

In order to make these changes a reality, the UO is requesting $35,000 of additional annual funding from the Oregon University System.

This program is extra. The University has run an athletic department without it for over a hundred years, and no doubt could continue doing so. The Oregon University System is beyond strapped to pay for University operations that are actually of some importance beyond image control. I certainly don't want my taxes funding this, especially for an athletic department that prides itself on being "self-sufficient." That they would ask the OUS to fund this program makes those words ring hollow.