During his spring football press conference this week, Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley was asked about the future of marijuana testing in college sports. His answer was spot-on.
Back in December, Sooners players Ronnie Perkins, Trejan Bridges and Rhamondre Stevenson were suspended for six games each after failing a pre-Peach Bowl NCAA drug test and testing positive for marijuana.
Also in December, Major League Baseball removed marijuana from its list of banned substances both in the big leagues as well as in the minors.
So where does Riley, who obviously is very familiar with current NCAA rules and penalties for marijuana use, think the NCAA will do about marijuana testing in the future?
According to Jason Kersey of The Athletic…
Riley advocated Monday for an approach focused on the “welfare of the student-athlete,” which treats marijuana more like alcohol. Basically, under such a scenario, OU would be able to intervene and help if it feared an athlete’s marijuana use had become a serious problem, but otherwise would leave it alone. That is basically the NHL’s marijuana policy.
“To maybe give you an idea of some of the talks we’ve had, let’s say we had a player, maybe, that had an issue with abusing alcohol,” Riley said. “It’s not necessarily illegal from an NCAA standard, this and that. We would sit down and talk to this player. We would get him counseling. We would approach it more from a wellness and … being healthy for the rest of your life and putting yourself in good situations, helping you perform athletically, academically, all those things. We tried to do everything we could.
“And I don’t know that we’ve all necessarily been able to do that with marijuana, specifically because of the ramification of a guy testing positive.”
His point is that players, regardless of what drug gets them suspended they get punished the same way and unless someone in authority clearly states which drug it is the player used then they are all lumped into the same category, which hurts the reputation of the player when perhaps it shouldn’t have.
One example of how the NCAA’s drug policy doesn’t make sense is if a player has a prescription for Adderall then it’s approved, but if a player has a prescription for medical marijuana, and uses it, they will be suspended for half a season.
“It’s made it kind of the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about,” Riley added. “Like we do with every part of our program, we’re trying to evolve. We’re not saying, ‘Well, we’ve just always done it like this, so that’s how we’ll do it.’ We’re trying to improve and make sure we’re doing everything we can for our student-athletes. I don’t know that I have all the answers right now. These are evolving, and it’s something we’ll continue to look at to make sure we’re doing the best that we can.”
Riley foresees a day when the NCAA’s policy on marijuana will change. It will have to at some point, and in his opinion it will happen “probably sooner rather than later.”
One can only hope.