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Collegiate athletic team performance linked to sanctions for violating NCAA drug policy

The NCAA mandates all Division I and II student athletes are subject to year-round drug testing, yet the consequences for a positive drug test vary by institution. Prior studies have documented a large degree of variability among universities. For example, penalties for the first positive drug screen for men’s basketball players ranged from no mandated suspension at one institution to a one-year minimum suspension at another. A new study examined (1) the most common types of penalties for banned substance violations and (2) variability in drug testing policies among low- and high-performing Division I athletic programs, (3) the most common types of penalties for banned substance violations and (4) variability in drug testing policies among low- and high-performing Division II athletic programs, and (5) variability in drug testing policies between Division I and II institutions. The authors defined high-performing athletic programs as those that appeared in the top 25 postseason rankings in at least one of three sports— football, men’s basketball, and women’s basketball—in the past five seasons. Low-performing athletic programs were selected using Learfield Directors’ Cup rankings. The authors calculated descriptive statistics for each institutional category and conducted a Chi-square analysis to identify differences between high- and low-performing programs. Results indicated the most common penalties for first-time offenders were more frequent drug tests and counseling across all institutional categories; no institutions in this sample dismissed a student from the team for a first-time offense. High-performing Division I programs were significantly less likely to suspend student-athletes for a first-time violation than low-performing programs (all ps < 0.01). In response to a third offense, high-performing Division I programs were significantly more likely to discipline student athletes in ways other than dismissal from the team, compared to low-performing programs (all ps < 0.05). Overall, for Division I institutions, the number of offenses was positively related to the severity of the penalty, with the exception of suspensions; high-performing men’s basketball (80%) or women’s basketball programs (85%) were more likely to suspend student athletes after a first-time offense than low-performing programs (72%), although these differences were not statistically significant. Unlike Division I athletic programs, among Division II institutions, penalties were relatively consistent between high- and low-performing athletic programs.

Take away: Among select NCAA Division I athletic programs, significant variation in penalties for student athletes who violated campus drug policy were observed between high- and low-performing programs. Such variability was not documented among select Division II athletic programs.

Elliott, K.P., Kellison, T.B., & Cianfrone, B.A. (2018). NCAA drug testing policies and penalties: The role of team performance. Journal of Intercollegiate College Sport [published online ahead of print May 2018] doi: 10.1123/jis.2017-0036

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