SEC Football: Don't Expect a Conference-Wide Drug Policy Anytime SoonMarch 3, 2014
One of the hot-button topics last offseason during the SEC's spring meetings was the possibility of the conference implementing a conference-wide substance abuse policy.
ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy reported last May that officials discussed the possibility of instituting penalties that are the same across the entire conference, rather than allowing schools to develop their own policies, which is the case right now.
Ultimately it's up to the presidents to make the decision, and the proposal didn't have enough support to pass during spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
Don't expect it to pass this offseason, either.
"It's a moot issue now," Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said. "It was discussed in Destin in May of 2013, and gained no traction from the presidents groups."
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs echoed those sentiments.
"It hasn't been brought up in any of our meetings so far over the last year," he said. "I'd be surprised if it came up again, because we haven't had any conversations about it. But as you know, anything can come up when we get to the spring meetings."
For the discussion to come back up again, it will have to be initiated by the presidents.
"If it's something that's to be discussed, I'm sure the presidents will bring it forward," McGarity said.
As it stands right now, schools determine penalties themselves for positive tests and/or arrests for recreational drugs. Georgia's policy on substance abuse costs a player 10 percent of his or her season on the first violation, 30 percent on the second and dismisses them permanently on the third.
According to McMurphy, Georgia is one of three SEC schools, along with Kentucky and Mississippi State, that suspends a player for a first violation. Depending on the institution and substance(s) involved in previous violations, either the third or fourth violation involving marijuana will get a student-athlete permanently suspended according to McMurphy and student-athlete handbooks available on each program's website.
Obviously, penalties that vary from school to school do put schools with stricter policies at a competitive disadvantage. South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier famously joked to ESPN.com prior to the 2012 season that he liked playing Georgia early in the season because "you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended."
For some athletics directors, including Jacobs, issues relating to the substance abuse policy are better off being left to the institutions themselves rather than the conference or NCAA.
Auburn suspends a player for half the season upon their second violation of the marijuana policy, and permanently on the third. For other substances, permanent suspension is possible on the second offense according to its student-athlete handbook.
"I believe that it's an institutional policy and an institutional decision," Jacobs said. "We have over 1,300 tests per year and less than one percent are positive, so I'm not sure what we're trying to fix. There may be a competitive disadvantage [for some], but no more competitive disadvantage than when their academic standards for admission are different."
The annual SEC spring meeting in Destin always provides some interesting talking points to discuss in the offseason. Scheduling is always an issue, and the potential defensive substitution rule will certainly cause some fireworks this year whether the proposal is passed later this month or not.
But don't count on a conference-wide substance abuse policy being a major topic of discussion this year.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.