You may have heard that the NCAA voted to provide DI student athletes, both on scholarship and walk ons, unlimited meal and snacks, an increase from the three meals per day that only scholarship athletes were provided. You may have also heard reports that this change was triggered by an offhand comment made by UConn’s Shabazz Napier, who said that he sometimes went to bed hungry.
Such a move takes care of student athletes, allowing them to properly replace all the calories they burn during training, something that they do for upwards of 20 hours a week. According to the Wall Street Journal, this vote was one of the easiest votes for the NCAA’s legislative board to make. “It was pretty seamless,” NCAA D1 legislative board council chair Mary Mulvenna said. “In all honesty, that this was the right thing to do.”
But also in the NCAA announcement about meals plans were five other passed votes, all intended to increase the “well being” of student athletes. One such vote? The penalty for testing positive for a “street drug” will be reduced to half a season. Previously, students were suspended for an entire season, including post-season competition, after testing positive for “street drug” use.
You're probably asking yourself what a "street drug" is. Well, according to NCAA bylaw 126.96.36.199.e, this is the classification for heroin, marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In contrast, drugs like methamphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy are characterized as “stimulants” by the NCAA because they have performance enhancing qualities.
Reducing the penalty for marijuana drug use has actually been discussed in the NCAA for about a year. In early 2013, the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports recommended the change in an effort to “approach non=performance-enhancing drug use in a different way than we approach performance-enhancing drug use.”
In other words, if athletes aren’t getting an unfair advantage by using the drug, why punish them and eat away at their eligibility?
Of course the question must be asked, if marijuana isn’t performance enhancing, why test for it at all, especially now that states are increasingly legalizing it for medical and recreational use?
Well, the NCAA more or less follows the lead of the World Anti-Doping Code, which believes in testing for drugs that could harm the health of athletes. As such, in its report on the new marijuana penalty policy, the NCAA said that, “even though marijuana is not ergogenic; its use by student-athletes can jeopardize the individual’s health, and is not consistent with the spirit of sport.”
On that note, early in 2013, the NCAA also changed its marijuana testing threshold, reducing it from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 5 nanograms per milliliter, which means more students will likely test positive for a drug that the NCAA believes is not performance enhancing. At least starting in August 2014, they'll receive half the penalty.