There’s no evidence that Lamaak’s weight gain was anything but natural. Gaining fat is much easier than gaining muscle. But colleges don’t routinely release information on how much of the weight their players gain is muscle, as opposed to fat. Without knowing more, said Benardot, the expert at Georgia State, it’s impossible to say whether large athletes were putting on suspicious amounts of muscle or simply obese, which is defined as a body mass index greater than 30.
Looking solely at the most significant weight gainers also ignores players like Bryan Maneafaiga.
In the summer of 2004, Maneafaiga was an undersized 180-pound running back trying to make the University of Hawaii football team. Twice — once in pre-season and once in the fall — he failed school drug tests, showing up positive for marijuana use. What surprised him was that the same tests turned up negative for steroids.
He'd started injecting stanozolol, a steroid, in the summer to help bulk up to a roster weight of 200 pounds. Once on the team, where he saw only limited playing time, he'd occasionally inject the milky liquid into his buttocks the day before games.
‘‘Food and good training will only get you so far,’’ he told the AP recently.
Maneafaiga’s coach, June Jones, meanwhile, said none of his players had tested positive for doping since he took over the team in 1999. He also said publicly that steroids had been eliminated in college football: ‘‘I would say 100 percent,’’ he told The Honolulu Advertiser in 2006.
Jones said it was news to him that one of his players had used steroids. Jones, who now coaches at Southern Methodist University, said many of his former players put on bulk working hard in the weight room. For instance, adding 70 pounds over a three- to four-year period isn’t unusual, he said.
Jones said a big jump in muscle year-over-year — say 40 pounds — would be a ‘‘red light that something is not right.’’
Jones, a former NFL head coach, said he is unaware of any steroid use at SMU and believes the NCAA is doing a good job testing players. ‘‘I just think because the way the NCAA regulates it now that it’s very hard to get around those tests,’’ he said.
The cost of testing
While the use of drugs in professional sports is a question of fairness, use among college athletes is also important as a public policy issue. That’s because most top-tier football teams are from public schools that benefit from millions of dollars each year in taxpayer subsidies. Their athletes are essentially wards of the state. Coaches and trainers — the ones who tell players how to behave, how to exercise and what to eat — are government employees.
Then there are the health risks, which include heart and liver problems and cancer.
On paper, college football has a strong drug policy. The NCAA conducts random, unannounced drug testing and the penalties for failure are severe. Players lose an entire year of eligibility after a first positive test. A second offense means permanent ineligibility from sports.
In practice, though, the NCAA’s roughly 11,000 annual tests amount to just a fraction of all athletes in Division I and II schools. Exactly how many tests are conducted each year on football players is unclear because the NCAA hasn’t published its data for two years. And when it did, it periodically changed the formats, making it impossible to compare one year of football to the next.
Even when players are tested by the NCAA, people involved in the process say it’s easy enough to anticipate the test and develop a doping routine that results in a clean test by the time it occurs. NCAA rules say players can be notified up to two days in advance of a test, which Catlin says is plenty of time to beat a test if players have designed the right doping regimen. By comparison, Olympic athletes are given no notice.
‘‘Everybody knows when testing is coming. They all know. And they know how to beat the test,’’ Catlin said, adding, ‘‘Only the really dumb ones are getting caught.’’
Players are far more likely to be tested for drugs by their schools than by the NCAA. But while many schools have policies that give them the right to test for steroids, they often opt not to. Schools are much more focused on street drugs like cocaine and marijuana. Depending on how many tests a school orders, each steroid test can cost $100 to $200, while a simple test for street drugs might cost as little as $25.
When schools call and ask about drug testing, the first question is usually, ‘‘How much will it cost,’’ Turpin said.Continued...