Every student-athlete in the NCAA knows that there's a list of substances that are banned. Many of them make sense: marijuana, cocaine, steroids, and the like.
But what happens when the NCAA adds a substance found in a popular dietary supplement to the list of banned substances?
One would think that the NCAA would notify all of its member institutions, so they can inform the student-athletes, and warn them against using said popular dietary supplement.
If you'd assume that, you'd be wrong.
The Grand Rapids Press has reported that Zach Breen, All-GLIAC linebacker for Grand Valley State, has been suspended by the NCAA for failing a drug test.
While that sounds simple enough, the reason Breen failed the test is confusing to most, and infuriating to Grand Valley State coaches, administrators, and fans.
The NCAA added a substance called methylhexaneamine to their list of banned substances at the end of September 2010. To put that in perspective, the football season was already well under way.
The NCAA regularly conducts random drug tests, and GVSU performs their own tests as well. When head coach Matt Mitchell was informed that Breen failed a drug test, he simply didn't believe it.
Mitchell told the Grand Rapids Press that Breen had never had any problems with the law, never used drugs, and is a biomedical major with a 3.8 GPA. Breen is obviously a smart kid.
What should be Zach Breen's punishment?
You'd think that the NCAA would have some mechanism for informing its 1,281 member schools and conferences about new banned substances.
You'd think wrong.
The head athletic trainer at GVSU is responsible for the student-athlete's nutritional matters. Mark Stoessner, GVSU's head trainer, never received any type of notification or information about methylhexaneamine being added to the banned list.
“At Division II and Division III schools, whoever is doing what I'm doing is the closest thing to an expert you're going to get. The bigger [Division I] schools have nutritionists and maybe people where that's more what they do, but we don't have anything like that [at GVSU],” Stoessner told the Grand Rapids Press.
In fact, before the 2010 season began, Breen says he met with Stoessner, and went over everything he was taking. There were no conflicts with the list of banned substances, and at the start of the 2010 season, methylhexaneamine wasn't even on the banned substances list.
So Breen, along with some of his teammates, continued to take the dietary supplement that contained the substance.
So how did GVSU eventually find out the substance was banned? The first indication was Breen's failed test.
Stoessner did some digging, and found the only location which provided notification about new banned substances was an Internet blog by the Center for Drug Free Sport, an independent organization which administers the NCAA's drug testing.
A September post on that blog listed methylhexaneamine.
Keep in mind that there are well over 1,200 NCAA member institutions. As of May 10, 2011, the blog itself still lists only eight subscribers.
“All [Breen] wants to do is play football. He's going to dental school, he's got a 3.8-whatever GPA, and he's getting suspended by the same people that look at Jim Tressel,” Stoessner was quoted as saying.
Breen was suspended for his entire senior season (2011) by the NCAA. GVSU immediately filed a formal appeal, and the NCAA reduced the suspension, but Breen still must sit out the first five games of 2011.
The real tragedy is that Breen isn't playing for a shot at the NFL, he's playing because he loves to play. He's wasn't trying to get a leg up on the competition, or make a few hundred dollars under the table.
Yet, inexplicably, the NCAA has handed Breen the same suspension handed to people like Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel—who knowingly violated the rules.
The NCAA frankly ought to be ashamed of the massive disparity is punishments. Clearly, protecting the interests of Ohio State are more important than making sure the right thing is done.
A linebacker from Division II Grand Valley State who had no intention of breaking any rules—especially when the head coach and head athletic trainer weren't even aware of the substance's status—shouldn't be punished at the same level as a Division I FBS star quarterback and head coach who both knowingly broke the rules, and then tried to cover it up.
So why doesn't the NCAA have a notification system in place for new banned substances? One would think that in the era of instant communication, e-mail, and text messages, such a notification system would be pretty easy.
Good luck getting an answer. As with anything that might cast doubt on its policies and procedures, the NCAA did not respond to requests for comment on this story.