Lyons: Drug Policy More Rehabilitative Than Punitive
The recent arrest of Marcus Simms, 19, scheduled to start at wide receiver for West Virginia, for a second DUI within a four-month span after marijuana was smelled on his breath has put drugs and drug testing back in the news.
In a land where this is major concern in athletics, both in performance enhancing drugs — which put WVU quarterback Will Grier on the shelf for six games while he was at Florida — and illegal drugs, WVU has escaped without much in the way of problems.
Of course, due to privacy laws, such suspensions aren’t made public, but it doesn’t seem as though the culture of drugs is rampant throughout the WVU athletic department.
This was one of the subjects West Virginia’s director of athletics Shane Lyons touched upon during a far ranging meeting with the media that lasted for almost an hour.
Just this week it became public that Baylor, which has run into major issues with sexual assault and drug problems, did not have its own internal drug testing program, relying on the Big 12 and the NCAA’s procedures.
“It came as news to me,” Lyons admitted, with the Baylor administration apparently not sharing the knowledge with anyone until now. “We didn’t talk about it as a league. We talked about the Big 12 test, about the NCAA test.
“I have been through discussions with athletic directors and what their procedures and philosophies are, but you have to be your own and do what’s right for WVU and what our values are.”
With that in mind, Lyons revealed that the WVU drug policy has changed since he came on board to replace Oliver Luck three years ago.
“We have modified our drug policy over the past couple of years and made it more rehabilitative than punitive,” Lyons said. “There’s still punitive associated with it, but I don’t think our student athlete body is any different than our student body. You are in college. There are those issues. We have to educate our athletes to issues of drugs and academics.”
Lyons went on to explain how things changed after he came in from Alabama.
“When I came here I think it was the second test, if you failed it, you were removed from all team activities … practice, meetings, for the 10 percent penalty (you had to miss 10 percent of the games). You were in isolation. I didn’t believe in that,” Lyons said. “I think he should be still part of the team. Practicing, academics. They will sit out the 10 percent of the games. Should they be isolated? I didn’t think that was right. You have counseling sessions. You are trying to help the student athlete.”
Again, rehabilitation over punishment … but is he trying to keep the player from being punished or the team?
By letting the player practice and go about his business as if he or she were still part of the team, the athlete will be a better player when returning … but whether he or she will be a better person remains to be seen.
What’s more, Lyons said he leaves the decision to the coach, who probably is the last man who should be deciding how long he is supposed to be without maybe his or her best player.
It’s a word that’s in the news these days, but the coach probably ought to recluse himself from such decisions because they impact him, his job and his team.
WVU’s drug testing program involves a couple of random tests a year and is totally removed from the NCAA testing. In fact, Lyons noted, the NCAA gives 24 hours notice, gets a roster and comes in and tests randomly, maybe even testing players who had been tested by WVU the previous week.
The problems at Baylor and the academic misadventures at North Carolina that are threatening to take away a basketball national championship are very much on the front burner among NCAA schools.
“That’s something always on our radar,” Lyons admitted. “My background coming from compliance, you want to educate yourself and learn from the misfortune of others. Have we taken steps to try and educate our student athletes? Absolutely. Do we educate our coaches? Absolutely. They know if they have something they must report it to the appropriate people in the downtown administration to have them look into it.
“We try to educate and foster that type of communication within the department. We looked at the North Carolina case and did an internal audit of academics to make sure what the class sizes look like and our goal is have less than 25 percent of the class composition being student athletes.
“Most important, if you have a policy, you have to follow it. I can’t worry about if we test for this and they don’t or whatever it is. We have to do what’s best for this university.”
BRIEFLY: Believe it or not, Lyons says he heard from some school about scheduling football games in 2035-36. He told them he wasn’t working that far in advance … Lyons says he believes Mountaineer Field looks the best it’s every looked … There are no discussions about scheduling football or basketball games with Marshall and if they arose, the games would have to be in Morgantown … Lyons is trying to make it priority to have Pitt on the basketball schedule regularly and if the football games go well — like they wouldn’t? — also in football … The NFL may be looking at legitimizing marijuana for pain relief, but Lyons says there’s big differences between the NFL and college athletes and he isn’t for it … Lyons says there are more upgrades coming in the football facility for locker rooms and meeting rooms and offices, but that it isn’t an arms race. He does say you have to be competitive in your facilities … Declining season ticket sales are a concern, according to Lyons, but he says the program is something the entire state has to get behind … Lyons says the new track for running and walking and aquatic center at Mylan Park, done in a joint effort with the county, will be as good as any in the country.