Georgia Tech considering changes to substance-abuse policy


Georgia Tech’s substance-abuse policy has been in place since the 2012-13 academic year. Athletic director Todd Stansbury believes it’s time to take a look at it. He has the backing of his most prominent coaches, Paul Johnson and Josh Pastner. In examining Tech’s policy, which has a “three-strikes” component, the school is joining what he called a national trend.

“We’ve got to remember that we’re educators, so (we should be) coming from a philosophy of education,” Stansbury told the AJC. “That has a lot do with how the policy is set up and really relying on research and the experts.”

Shortly after his hire a year ago, Stansbury was asked by school president G.P. “Bud” Peterson to review all of the athletic department’s policies, including the one governing substance abuse by Yellow Jackets athletes.

While Stansbury said that he felt “pretty good” about the policy, he also said that “you try to make it so that the consequences aren’t punitive and it’s not a ‘gotcha’ type of deal.”

Tech athletes are subject to testing at random, before their season, upon reasonable suspicion and during postseason or championship competition.

Banned substances include illicit drugs, masking agents and steroids. Taking prescription medication without a prescription is also not permitted.

In one year, how has Todd Stansbury impacted Georgia Tech?

A first offense mandates a meeting with the athletic director and head coach, notification of parents/guardians, a counseling assessment and a treatment plan that is required to be followed. The athlete also is subject to unannounced follow-up testing.

A second offense results in suspension for 20 percent of the athlete’s season and additional treatment and follow-up testing. The consequence for a third offense is permanent suspension from participating in any sport at Tech, along with cancellation of financial aid.

Other ACC schools, such as Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State, have similar programs that dismiss athletes after a third offense, while others permit additional offenses.

The trend nationally is toward more forgiving policies. According to a 2015 Associated Press report, an athlete doesn’t lose playing time at Oregon until a third failed test. At Washington, the consequence for a third positive – which at Tech means dismissal – is a 30-day suspension.

At Virginia, a first offense mandates clearance from the staff sports psychologist, medical director and drug-testing coordinator before an athlete is cleared to compete. A second offense doesn’t necessarily lead to a suspension from competition, but does require a behavioral contract that specifies conditions for continued participation and consequences for failure to abide by them. It typically involved community service, academic responsibilities and team commitments. A third offense doesn’t mandate dismissal, although that’s typically the case, according to Ethan Saliba, Virginia’s head athletic trainer.

Saliba said the goal is deterring drug use and identifying and treating abusers, not punishment.

“We’re not here to hurt kids, is the point,” Saliba said. “If you have those rules and those (punitive) consequences, are you sure that’s helping the kid?”

Johnson said that he has been lobbying to change the policy.

“Times have changed,” he said. “And, to me, there probably ought to be reason to test guys.”

Of different schools’ policies on random testing, “it’s a lot more random at some places than others,” Johnson said.

Pastner said he is in favor of a different set of consequences for testing positive for marijuana vs. other substances, citing its prevalence on college campuses and legalization in certain states. He also proposed the removal of a strike if an athlete passes tests for a prolonged period.

“I don’t want our guys to be smoking marijuana, but I do think there’s opportunities to maybe have it not be as stringent,” he said.

Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech are among ACC schools that have separate provisions for testing positive for marijuana. Clemson has a three-strikes policy, but offers “amnesty” for freshmen who test positive for marijuana (within a certain range of THC levels) as they “may be transitioning to stricter behaviors than those to which they may have been accustomed,” according to its policy, and to provide an opportunity for early intervention. The athlete will not be charged with a positive as long as he or she completes the treatment plan.

Stansbury is cognizant of the shifting perception of marijuana use, which has been legalized for recreational purposes in eight states and Washington, D.C. According to a survey taken in 2016 by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, 39 percent of college students had used marijuana in the previous year, and 22 percent in the past 30 days. According to an NCAA survey taken in 2013, 16 percent of Division I athletes had used marijuana in the previous 12 months.

Stansbury also acknowledged that marijuana continues to be on the NCAA’s banned-substance list, that it is illegal in the state of Georgia and that future employers may test for it.

“We would be negligent if we weren’t trying to steer our student-athletes away from its use,” Stansbury said.

Stansbury said his goal is education, behavior modification and helping Tech athletes make better decisions. If a new policy is created, it will be enacted at a time when the perception of drug use, particularly marijuana, continues to change, as do policies and laws.

“So it’s an incredibly complex set of issues that I think everybody’s trying to get their arms around,” he said.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

From Bavaria, a ‘freak’ defensive end is coming to Georgia Tech
From Bavaria, a ‘freak’ defensive end is coming to Georgia Tech

Four years ago, Julius Welschof knew virtually nothing about football. The German teen didn’t know the rules, didn’t know the positions and didn’t know how to throw or catch the ball. But, on an extended visit to the U.S., a family friend introduced him to the game and, evaluating his body and agility, told him that he had the potential...
4 prospects on Georgia Tech’s list
4 prospects on Georgia Tech’s list

With college football’s inaugural early signing period starting Wednesday, Georgia Tech coaches are trying to finish strong with the signing class for 2018. Tech has 17 players committed as of Friday, and there’s room for a handful more. Here are four players that Tech coaches are trying to add to the class. Graham, a dual-threat quarterback...
T.K. Chimedza spurns powerhouses for Georgia Tech
T.K. Chimedza spurns powerhouses for Georgia Tech

Kurai and Gertrude Chimedza thought that their son’s college choice was a no-brainer, but they kept their opinion to themselves. T.K., one of the state of Georgia’s top prospects at defensive tackle, would have to make the decision on his own. While powerhouses Georgia, Florida State and Oregon made scholarship offers, Chimedza went with...
Mark Price fired as coach at Charlotte
Mark Price fired as coach at Charlotte

Two and a half seasons into his first job as a head college basketball coach, Georgia Tech great Mark Price was fired Thursday at Charlotte. Price was 30-42 with the 49ers, including a 3-6 record this season. “I’m still stunned to be honest,” Price told the Charlotte Observer. “I was called in this morning and was told...
After leaving Georgia Tech for NASCAR, new career for Eason Fromayan
After leaving Georgia Tech for NASCAR, new career for Eason Fromayan

A year after foregoing his final season of eligibility to pursue a career as a NASCAR pit-crew member, Eason Fromayan is not where he thought he’d be. The former Yellow Jackets offensive tackle did work NASCAR races, as he had hoped. Working lower-tier series, he served teams as a mechanic and a tire specialist. He was part of the over-the-wall...
More Stories