The summer's events served as a "wakeup call" for Athletics, Director of Athletics Don Oberhelman said. This year, they are testing approximately 50 students every other week, compared to 41 all of last year. | Photo illustration by Joseph Pack/Mustang News

Jessica Burger
Special to Mustang News

After receiving a 24-hour notice, senior Cal Poly football players Brandon Howe and Kenny Mitchell showed up to Crandall Gym at 6 a.m. on a school day, 20 minutes before practice. They walked into a bathroom stall, pulled down their pants and peed into a cup — all in the company of a stranger.

But the ritual is nothing new to most Cal Poly student-athletes, as random drug tests are administered through the year.

A troubled summer

When five Cal Poly football players were arrested this summer for an alleged armed robbery at the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house, suspicions that the incident was drug-related forced Cal Poly Athletics to re-evaluate its drug testing system. The policy has not changed, but Director of Athletics Don Oberhelman said the frequency of testing has increased. The goal is to find out whether there is a drug problem in athletics.

“Once we found out about (the incident), it was probably a little bit of shock on our part,” Oberhelman said. “We just couldn’t believe that something like that would happen. And then we heard the rumors that it might be possible that money was being owed for drugs, or something along those lines. And to be honest, that’s still a little bit blurry. We don’t know and we probably won’t know until the police report is released.”

Click on the hotspots below for more information about the timeline of events.

Graphic by Shelley Westerson

The five players were arrested and later released on bail. Currently, they await their Jan. 12 trial date.

“Once we heard (drugs) could be a part of it was when we began the steps and said, ‘You know what, we need to amp up our drug testing program and see if we do have a deeper problem than we would have ever realized,’” Oberhelman said. “I think the best of our students, and I wouldn’t have thought that this would be an issue. So one of the reasons we’re doing the testing is to find that out.”

With more than 500 student-athletes, Cal Poly has been administering an average of 50 drug tests every two weeks this year. Last year saw only 41 tests administered throughout the entire school year.

“In the past, we didn’t do it as frequently as we should have,” Oberhelman said. “Now we are doing it as frequently as we possibly can.”

As the amount of drug tests increases, so does the cost.

The money comes straight out of the Cal Poly Athletics fund. Each test can cost anywhere from $50-125, depending on which groups of drugs are selected to test for. A test for anabolic steroids runs more expensive than a test for marijuana, cocaine or the prescription drug Adderall. Illegal prescription drug use, Oberhelman said, is an area Cal Poly is concerned about and is testing for this year.

The school contracts with Drug-Free Sport, an outside agency that is also used at major athletic events and tournaments by the NCAA. The agency uses a software program — all the student-athletes’ names are submitted, and the software chooses at random who to test.

A change of pace

Howe, an agricultural business senior and fullback, reflected on his experience.

“It’s just you and one other person,” he said. “They ask you to drop your pants and underwear to make sure that there’s no fishy business going on, and they watch you while you provide the sample.”

Howe and Mitchell — who are both in their final season — were instructed not to drink anything past midnight to provide a urine sample at an acceptable concentration. They were also told not to use the bathroom after they woke up that morning.

“This year has been a big change,” Howe said. “Now, we are getting drug tested a lot more than usual. I tend to stay away from that kind of thing, so it hasn’t really affected me personally, but I think it’s a great thing for the team and the Cal Poly athletic community — we get a free education, so we should be held to a higher standard.”

“We get a free education, so we should be held to a higher standard.”

Mitchell, a civil engineering senior and running back, agreed.

“It’s not what we’re about here at Cal Poly, and it’s a good reason for people to say no,” he said. “Say you’re at a party, and somebody hands you something — ­­­you know it’s the perfect excuse to say no.”

In the past, Mitchell and Howe remember being tested by NCAA administers.

“This year, Cal Poly is doing its own tests, testing for street drugs and stuff like that,” Mitchell said. “That’s kind of a big change this year.”


So what happens when a student-athlete tests positive for drugs?

According to Oberhelman, the consequences are similar to a three-strike rule. At the bare minimum, after the first violation the student has to attend mandatory counseling and drug education classes. They are also subject to every drug test administered afterward. After a second offense, the player is automatically suspended for 25 percent of their team’s season. After a third dirty test, they’re gone.

dirty drug tests2
Graphic by Jessica Burger and Kayla Missman

“A single test is a violation of our teams’ rules,” Oberhelman said. “So the coach has the right to remove somebody from scholarship or the team as they see fit.”

He likes the policy as it stands.

“I think we’d miss an opportunity to teach, versus just casting somebody aside for a mistake,” he said. “I’d rather we take the opportunity to educate somebody about their decisions, how they impact others, how they impact their team and how they impact their future here at Cal Poly. Because if you just kick somebody out, then they probably didn’t learn anything other than the fact that they’d made a mistake. And their behavior is probably just going to just stay the same.”

Oberhelman said the unruly behavior of the former student-athletes last August came as a wake-up call for the athletics drug-testing protocol.

“Illegal use of prescription drugs is rampant with your age group, and that’s something that we’ve been very concerned about,” Oberhelman said. “We’ve been (drug testing) about every other week, and it’s going to last for quite some time.”

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