DALLAS -- They guzzle down vinegar and foul-smelling
horsetail grass teas. They carry secret bleach-filled condoms and whip up tall, Visine eyewash cocktails.
Collegiate athletes -- inspired by gossip, wives' tales and, occasionally, science -- are attempting to fool drug tests using methods bordering on the bizarre.
"Most are about as effective as drying your pet poodle in a microwave," said Jeffrey Nightbyrd, an Austin, Texas, drug-testing expert who has sold several powdered, drug-free urine kits. "They don't work a bit."
Still, there are persistent signs that much abuse -- especially within Division I-A football -- remains undetected.
the same time that University of Texas, Notre Dame and South Carolina football players are being linked with anabolic steroids, survey results from the National Collegiate Athletic Association show steady decreases in estimates of the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Someone is lying.
And based on what has come to light in recent news accounts at the University of Texas, the false readings could be coming from the vials of athletes' urine submitted for testing.
"I know every offensive lineman, two defensive line starters, three reserves and a couple of linebackers are all doing steroids," says a former Longhorn player who requested anonymity. "Some guys are eating them like they're candy."
This at a school where the drug-testing program -- considered by the NCAA to be one of the nation's best -- has not revealed anything of the sort, according to athletic director DeLoss Dodds.
An NCAA study based on reporting by the universities has estimated that less than 5 percent of all athletes have used steroids.
Another examination, by Penn State's College of Health and Human Development, projected the upper limit for steroid use in all sports at 14.7 percent of males and 29.3 percent of football players.
The NCAA, Southwest Conference and individual athletic programs all are attempting to catch violators. But experts say that technology lags behind the development of masking agents and other tricks.
"It turns out in the world of athletics there are enough booster-doctors that will help players get around these tests that they don't need my services," said Nightbyrd, a beat-the-drug-test researcher who markets a pamphlet designed primarily for citizens in the workplace.
At Texas, reports indicate that football players have used at least two means of deception.
Austin newspaper stories have said that one Longhorn lineman, defensive tackle James Patton, beat steroid detection by switching urine samples with a "clean" teammate.
Another cheating method might have surfaced when police arrested defensive tackle Alan Luther late last year for possession of what they believed was a vial of the male hormone testosterone.
Authorities later released Luther and dropped charges when tests showed the substance was epitestosterone, a legal chemical with no medical use.
Luther said a Houston physician prescribed it to be rubbed into a sore shoulder. But SWC and NCAA testing officials contend it has only one value: Injected in the right amounts before a drug test, it can mask abnormally high levels of testosterone.
The pure form of the male hormone is the powerful muscle-builder from which all anabolic steroids are derived.
And there is evidence that Texas players have been at least attempting to acquire testosterone using fake prescriptions.
A state Department of Public Safety investigation is under way. And SWC assistant commissioner Allen Archer, who administers random steroid tests at all member schools, says methods of detecting epitestosterone will be discussed at the conference's spring meetings.
But until testing technologies are adjusted, there is no way to know how many test results have been cheated by testosterone-using players at Texas and across the country.
And given lax procedures and loopholes in other, cheaper urine tests administered by school personnel, the full extent of illegal drug use by NCAA players might never be known.
Last year at the University of Oklahoma, for example, a pair of former Sooner players described several ways football players supposedly beat detection of both "street drugs" and steroids.
"We're so smart, we know how to get around our tests," said a former Sooner player who asked to remain anonymous. "There's this pill called niacin and stuff called Goldenseal. We drink that the day before with some cranberry juice or some vinegar.
Not necessarily so, Nightbyrd said. "None of those things you can drink works," he said. "What does work is dilution, which is what they're basically talking about.
"Often, that gets you under the threshold."