By comparison, in Kentucky and Maryland, racehorses face tougher testing and sanctions than football players at Louisville or the University of Maryland.
‘‘If you’re trying to keep a level playing field, that seems nonsensical,’’ said Rannazzisi at the DEA. He said he was surprised to learn that what gets a free pass at one school gets players immediately suspended at another. ‘‘What message does that send? It’s OK to cheat once or twice?’’
Only about half the student athletes in a 2009 NCAA survey said they believed school testing deterred drug use.
As an association of colleges and universities, the NCAA could not unilaterally force schools to institute uniform testing policies and sanctions, Wilfert said.
‘‘We can’t tell them what to do, but if went through a membership process where they determined that this is what should be done, then it could happen,’’ she said.
‘Everybody around me was doing it’
Steroids are a controlled substance under federal law, but players who use them need not worry too much about prosecution. The DEA focuses on criminal operations, not individual users. When players are caught with steroids, it’s often as part of a traffic stop or a local police investigation.
Jared Foster, 24, a quarterback recruited to play at the University of Mississippi, was kicked off the team in 2008 after local authorities arrested him for giving a man nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, according to court documents. Foster pleaded guilty and served jail time.
He told the AP that he doped in high school to impress college recruiters. He said he put on enough lean muscle to go from 185 pounds to 210 in about two months.
‘‘Everybody around me was doing it,’’ he said.
Steroids are not hard to find. A simple Internet search turns up countless online sources for performance-enhancing drugs, mostly from overseas companies.
College athletes freely post messages on steroid websites, seeking advice to beat tests and design the right schedule of administering steroids.
And steroids are still a mainstay in private, local gyms. Before the DEA shut down Alabama-based Applied Pharmacy Services as a major nationwide steroid supplier, sales records obtained by the AP show steroid shipments to bodybuilders, trainers and gym owners around the country.
Because users are rarely prosecuted, the demand is left in place after the distributor is gone.
When Joshua Hodnik was making and wholesaling illegal steroids, he had found a good retail salesman in a college quarterback named Vinnie Miroth. Miroth was playing at Saginaw Valley State, a Division II school in central Michigan, and was buying enough steroids for 25 people each month, Hodnik said.
‘‘That’s why I hired him,’’ Hodnik said. ‘‘He bought large amounts and knew how to move it.’’
Miroth, who pleaded no contest in 2007 and admitted selling steroids, helped authorities build their case against Hodnik, according to court records. Now playing football in France, Miroth declined repeated AP requests for an interview.
Hodnik was released from prison this year and says he is out of the steroid business for good. He said there’s no doubt that steroid use is widespread in college football.
‘‘These guys don’t start using performance-enhancing drugs when they hit the professional level,’’ the Oklahoma City man said. ‘‘Obviously it starts well before that. And you can go back to some of the professional players who tested positive and compare their numbers to college and there is virtually no change.’’
Maneafaiga, the former Hawaii running back, said his steroids came from Mexico. A friend in California, who was a coach at a junior college, sent them through the mail. But Maneafaiga believes the consequences were nagging injuries. He found religion, quit the drugs and became the team’s chaplain.
‘‘God gave you everything you need,’’ he said. ‘‘It gets in your mind. It will make you grow unnaturally. Eventually, you'll break down. It happened to me every time.’’
At the DEA, Rannazzisi said he has met with and conducted training for investigators and top officials in every professional sport. He’s talked to Major League Baseball about the patterns his agents are seeing. He’s discussed warning signs with the NFL.
He said he’s offered similar training to the NCAA but never heard back. Wilfert said the NCAA staff has discussed it and hasn’t decided what to do.
‘‘We have very little communication with the NCAA or individual schools,’’ Rannazzisi said. ‘‘They've got my card. What they've done with it? I don’t know.’’