Monitoring is big part of UM game plan

Increased drug tests, dorm checks among ways school works to police and protect athletes

May 27, 2007|By Jeff Barker and Heather A. Dinich | Jeff Barker and Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporters

COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland football coach Ralph Friedgen says he routinely plucks about 20 players at random from the practice field each month and requires them to take drug tests.

"I have the largest group of male athletes on campus," says Friedgen, whose tests come in addition to others done by the university and the NCAA. "I have 18- to 22-year-old kids. If I don't stay on top of that, then I'll have a real problem."

Friedgen has been known to dispatch assistants to bars to try to keep players out of harm's way. His coaches also conduct periodic evening dormitory checks, and men's basketball coach Gary Williams began requiring his players this past season to live on campus.

The policing of athletes, which costs the university numerous hours and tens of thousands of dollars in drug tests alone, is an often hidden part of every coach's duties at Maryland.

"It's not the fun part of the job," Friedgen says. "I'd rather just coach football. But it's a very big part of being a head coach."

But no matter how proactive they might be, Maryland athletic officials say lapses in young athletes' behavior are inevitable. Like other large universities, Maryland has not been immune from troubles with players.

Documents obtained by The Sun under public records requests outline 97 cases of athletes' alleged misconduct from the fall of 2004 to October 2006. By far, the largest number of incidents involved positive drug tests (39) and drinking (16 alcohol-related violations). Eleven cases of plagiarism or other academic misconduct also were chronicled, along with a dozen for fighting or assaults.

The records provide a rare public snapshot of the kind of information that universities must track as they seek to protect and discipline athletes.

"Young people tend to be risk-takers and don't always have an appreciation of the consequences of their action," said David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute. "We don't hear about the chemistry major, but we certainly hear about the DUI of the starting quarterback."

The records show Maryland conducted more than 1,800 drug tests during the period, spending at least $60,000 and probably much more. It suspended two dozen athletes for a wide range of offenses and required counseling for nearly three dozen more.

Maryland provided a six-page database labeled "Department of Athletics, UMCP Confidential." It included thumbnail descriptions of each incident but redacted names, specific dates and sports for privacy reasons.

"We have approximately 647 student-athletes between the ages of 18-22 that we deal with on a daily basis," said Kathleen Worthington, a senior associate athletic director at Maryland. "Overall, we are pleased with how they represent the university athletically, academically and socially."

Some Maryland athletes' cases have been made public, such as that of former basketball player Travis Garrison, accused of assaulting a woman at a College Park bar in 2005. He was suspended for a game for violating team rules but didn't serve jail time. Another basketball player, Chris McCray, was arrested in 2005 after allegedly refusing to leave the scene of a fight and was declared academically ineligible early in 2006.

Steroid violation

The documents outlined other incidents that received little or no publicity. These included a driving-under-the-influence allegation that forced an athlete to sit out part of an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, a plagiarism case serious enough to trigger a one-year suspension and a drug case that resulted in a lengthy suspension because it was the third such violation.

The records show there was a steroid violation in the spring of 2005. Although the documents don't name the athlete or sport, the violation came from the football program, according to an athletic department source whose account wasn't disputed by athletic officials. The student left school that semester. The player was a walk-on, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"What we are proud of is there was only one" positive steroid test, athletic director Debbie Yow said. "He never played a game. That's one thing we will say - the person who tested positive never competed for the University of Maryland."

Maryland increased its number of overall drug tests from 413 in 2004 to 538 in 2005. In 2006, it went to 882. The number of positive tests also increased from six in 2004 to 19 in 2005. The number of failed tests fell to 16 in 2006. Overall, 2.1 percent of athletes' tests produced a positive result during the past three years.

"It's hard to argue against the effectiveness of our drug policies when the numbers are going down," said Brian Ullmann, an associate athletic director. "Our drug policy is working. All you have to do is look at the numbers."

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