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College Football Doping Scandal

2010 June 14
by Brad Humphreys

College football is a big business these days.  Teams generate tens of millions of dollars of revenue every season, and for top players, a lucrative professional football contract worth millions of dollars usually awaits the end of their eligibility.  Given all the money associated with modern college football, players, coaches, and boosters face huge incentives to bend or break the rules.  Today officials handed down one of the harshest and most rarely used penalties available in sport to a football program: the “death penalty.”  Suspension of the program for one year.

The truly bizarre element of this story is that the “officials” were not from the NCAA, they were from Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS),  and the team was not a US football factory like USC (who were spanked soundly by the NCAA last week for recruiting violations), but the Waterloo University Warriors, who went 3-5 in 2009 CIS play and started out the season 0-3, getting soundly beaten by the likes of McMaster and the U. of Ottawa.  9 players tested positive for steroids, and one has been arrested for possession and trafficking in anabolic steroids.

I realize that many CIS football players go on to play in the CFL, and for the first time ever, a CIS player, defensive end Vaughn Martin, was selected in the 2009  NFL draft (in the 4th round).  And CIS football games are broadcast on television in Canada.  But I am on the faculty at a large public research university with one of the top athletic programs in the CIS, and I would be hard pressed to provide a single tidbit of information about the University of Alberta Golden Bears football team, other than they play at Foote Field, capacity 3,500, which is located on some obscure corner of campus I have never visited  (I have been to some Golden Bears hockey games — they have won 13 national championships and regularly give the Oilers rookies a stern test in an annual charity game held on campus).  CIS football in no way resembles NCAA football.  The coach of the Golden Bears football team is not the highest paid public employee in Alberta, or the highest paid university employee.  The financial incentives to take steroids in the CIS are nowhere near the financial incentives for NCAA football players to take steroids.

The lesson from the Waterloo Death Penalty is that the incentives to cheat in sport do not have to be economic.  Athletes playing at the top level of their sport, where ever they may be, are often motivated to win at all costs, even if the payoff to winning is primarily psychic, not economic.

One Response
  1. June 20, 2010

    Professor Humphreys,

    Some valid points and an all-around interesting take, but your blanket statement that the players were doping due to being “motivated to win at all costs” might not hold up.

    It ignores that doping controls in the Canadian Football League and CIS (not “the CIS”) were weak. Also, a reality is not everyone who takes steroids does to win at a sport.

    It could (maybe should) be argued the other way: Waterloo was a team that perennially went 2-6 or 3-5 in Ontario University Athletics, since the university does not put a lot of funding into football. (They typically beat Toronto and York, two chronic losers, each season.)

    One might even argue the players who tested positive figured that it didn’t matter if by some remote chance they got busted, because it wouldn’t cost anyone a championship ring. Maybe they’d get drafted into the CFL, maybe they’d impress more women.

    We also don’t know how many guys on other teams would test positive. There probably are cases on the other 25 teams, but guess what? It is almost past a point of return with steroids. They’re here, and it’s probably just a matter of when purchasing them without a prescription will no longer be criminal.

    Any problem in CIS football is probably nor far off with the problem among a cross-section of 15- to 34-year-old males in North America. Did you also pause to note there is a massive grey area between a steroid and an over-the-counter supplement?

    Put another way: people assume now that anyone in the big ball-and-stick leagues is probably doping, and that there are probably a few in every police and fire department. And guess what? People do not care for the most part. But Waterloo decided to sell out its athletes and incoming recruits, not to mention put 9 other teams in a bind since the schedule is compromised for next season.

    Anyway, I look at the reaction to this and see a lot of people looking at through eyes of fear … fear our brand of college football might be too much like the U.S. of A, fear about this supposed scourge on society.

    A lot of is a the baby-boom generation trying to exercise its guilt over setting a bad example. Liberalism and people being allowed to make personal choices was fine for them, but not for us. Now we get “zero tolerance” and prohibition-style tactics.

    Much of the latter, namely this steroid-in-sports shock-and-awe routine, is coming from Canada’s deep-seated anti-Americanism. Fearing CIS is getting “too competitive” or too much like the NCAA is a symptom.

    There is nothing wrong about trying to raise the profile of our university athletes and coaches to something closer to a NCAA Division I level, especially if we can do it without compromising academia any more than it is already.

    The NCAA is not a farm system. There 120 teams in the top tier of NCAA football and maybe 200 players per year go on to the NFL. That’s less than two players per team, which doesn’t really corroborate your contention, for top players, a lucrative professional football contract worth millions of dollars usually awaits the end of their eligibility. There are 300-plus Division I basketball teams and 30 players a season go NBA and maybe 15 go to the WNBA.

    Waterloo failed to take this into consideration. Much of traditional media also showed it is not interested into getting deep into an issue. It also showed a total of lack of accountability and self-awareness with regard to own bias (i.e., pandering to easily shocked who want to be spoon-fed everything in black-and-white instead of the usually-grey truth).

    Of course, there are no eyes of fear, just eyes of love. As you can tell, I love the CIS. It’s painful to see people who think this is big enough to get on a moral-ethical high horse, but in the same breath imply the leagu is small potatoes. One or other.

    FYI, Vaughn Martin was not the “first [CIS] player ever” drafted by the NFL. He was the first underclassman from the CIS drafted by the NFL. Jim Young was the first in 1965, forty-five years ago. Martin wasn’t even the highest-drafted CIS player; that would be Mike Schad — first round, 1986, L.A. Rams.

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