INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The NCAA has not tested players for performance-enhancing drugs at March Madness and other recent college championships, The Associated Press has learned. Three people with direct knowledge of NCAA testing protocols said full-scale testing has not resumed since the coronavirus pandemic shut down college sports a year ago. Although athletes may have been tested on campus, either through the NCAA program or those run by schools, the NCAA has not ramped up its usual testing program at national championships such as the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The tournaments wrap up with Final Four games starting with the women’s semifinals Friday.
The NCAA has tested for drugs since 1986 and has changed and enhanced its policy over the years. Unlike some leagues and anti-doping organizations, it does not reveal the number of tests it conducts. Players who test positive can be kicked out of championships and lose a year or more of eligibility.
But the three people familiar with testing protocols told AP that the number of tests received from NCAA events went to zero after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports last spring. They said testing has recently resumed sporadically, but only via on-campus collections.
The people, who did not want their names used because of the sensitivity of the subject, all confirmed the same thing: No tests from the organization’s signature events – the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments and, earlier this year, the college football playoffs – have been received by the labs that analyze the NCAA tests.
The NCAA wouldn’t answer questions about specifics of its drug-testing program and says the mere possibility of unannounced tests can be a deterrent to doping. In an email exchange with the AP, NCAA spokesman Chris Radford would not answer whether testing was being conducted for players after arriving in Indianapolis and San Antonio for the tournaments in mid-March.
“We do not confirm drug testing at championships sites, especially when they are ongoing,” the NCAA‘s chief medical officer, Brian Hainline, told AP in a follow-up email. “That would defeat the purpose of our unannounced testing at championships. Further, we do not announce when we perform our extensive year-round unannounced drug testing outside of championships.”
This shutdown comes as the NCAA focuses on coronavirus testing as a way of keeping March Madness on track. On Thursday, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the association had conducted more than 41,000 COVID-19 tests throughout the basketball tournaments.
Though drug testing in college sports doesn’t receive as much scrutiny as in Olympic sports, the issue has impacted effective programs. At the college football playoff that closed the 2018 season, three Clemson players were suspended after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. In 2015, the NCAA sanctioned the Syracuse basketball program for various violations, including not following its own drug-testing rules.