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Saturday April 30, 2011 UF's substance abuse education program for student-athletes has produced impressive results

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When a player as prominent as Janoris Jenkins runs into off-the-field trouble, it usually makes headlines. When he plays at a school in the national spotlight such as Florida, the headlines are often set in larger type.

That was the case this week when Gators first-year coach Will Muschamp announced that Jenkins, a senior cornerback expected to be a high-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft, is no longer part of the football program due to his most recent trouble involving illegal substances.

The news sparked speculation about how much of an issue the problem is at Florida and other major athletic programs around the nation.

While it’s difficult to determine exact numbers on a national scale, those at UF paint a picture of an athletic department that does significant drug testing of its nearly 500 student-athletes each year and has a substance-abuse education program in place that is endorsed by school president Bernie Machen and includes a presidentially appointed group of faculty members and experts.

“UF and the Athletic Association are vigilant in our efforts to educate students on the dangers of drugs and alcohol and provide them with the necessary resources to fight substance abuse,’’ Machen said. “It’s an ongoing effort and an important part of our role helping them grow into productive and mature adults."

Over the last three years, UF has given nearly 4,200 drug tests to student-athletes, nearly 1,200 of those in the football program. Of those nearly 4,200 tests conducted by Aegis Sciences Corporation out of Nashville, a mere 34 athletes tested positive.

UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley

Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is confident that the school’s drug-testing program is working and that the school is doing its part to educate its student-athletes on the dangers of drug abuse.

“Drug testing is something we take extremely seriously and we’re committed to being as thorough as we possibly can be in this area,’’ Foley said. “We administer nearly 1,400 tests per year, testing every student-athlete multiple times each year. The substance abuse program is overseen by a presidentially-appointed committee comprised of faculty members and experts in their respective fields.

“The program combines education, significant testing and sanctions.  We have a strong program in place and continue to review our policies every single year.  Certainly we’re disappointed when young people make bad decisions.  We work extremely hard to educate all of our student-athletes on this issue and others and provide resources to assist them in any way that we can.”

 As soon as a student-athlete steps onto campus, he or she is drug tested as part of their physical exam before they are permitted to participate and are introduced to the school’s substance abuse education program during orientation.  All scholarship freshmen student-athletes are required to take a two-credit Life Skills class and a unit deals specifically with alcohol and substance abuse.

Also, all UF students are required to take an on-line Alcohol Educational Tutorial in their first year. The SEC has adopted the Branded a Leader program (which football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and men’s track and field are required to take during the course of the academic year) and substance and alcohol abuse are discussed.

Based on information from UF, the school conducts as many drug tests as any school in the nation. Each UF student-athlete is tested a minimum of three times per year and is provided a clearly outlined set of consequences and penalties for those in violation of the school’s drug policy.

The penalties are broken into several tiers with harsher penalties handed out to repeat offenders and those who test positive for specific drugs. Coaches can also, and often do, impose additional penalties in their respective sports.

Machen appoints the faculty members and experts in their related fields to the Substance Abuse Committee and directs them to review and implement the policy. None of the voting members of the committee are UAA employees.

Here are some key components that make up UF’s program, which runs year-round and includes summer testing as well.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE EDUCATION
Education is the most valuable tool in the life long prevention of substance abuse.  The University Athletic Association and the Substance Abuse Committee are committed to informing student-athletes on this issue.  As soon as a student-athlete steps onto campus, he or she is drug tested as part of their physical exam before they are permitted to participate and are introduced to the school’s substance abuse education program during orientation.  All scholarship freshmen student-athletes are required to take a two-credit Life Skills class and a unit deals specifically with alcohol and substance abuse.

DRUG TESTING
This program is required of all student-athletes (scholarship and non-scholarship) and cheerleaders.  All student-athletes and cheerleaders are required to participate in the UAA drug testing program as long as they are associated with the University Athletic Association.

DRUG TESTING PROCEDURE
Testing is conducted throughout the year (in season, out-of-season, and in the summer). Test specimens are collected by trained observers who are not members of the UAA staff.

1.  Random individual test.  Student-athletes’ names are randomly selected.  Each student receives a card indicating that he/she will be tested at the particular day and time noted on the card.
2.  Team testing.  A team may be tested at any time without notice.
3.  Testing for reasonable suspicion.  A coach, trainer, or administrator may request an individual or team test with or without notice when there is reasonable suspicion.

PENALTIES AND REQUIREMENTS WHEN FAILING TO PASS A DRUG TEST
In those cases where individuals engage in drug behaviors that violate the rules set forth, a clearly outlined set of consequences are in place. These are broken into tiered categories based on several factors with harsher penalties aimed at repeat offenders and those testing positive for specific drugs. Violations of any kind include mandatory counseling and additional testing. Coaches may impose additional penalties when student-athletes test positive as well.

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