SEC Too Lenient on Football Drug Offenders?

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Players testing positive for marijuana in the mighty Southeastern Conference do not face the one-year suspension that comes from getting busted by the NCAA.

In the most successful league of the BCS-era, players routinely get third, fourth and even fifth chances before they're booted from the team; failed drug tests administered by the NCAA result in the automatic suspension.

The finding comes from an Associated Press examination of the drug policies at 11 current members of the SEC. Vanderbilt, a private institution, declined to make its rules available.

Currently, a second positive test at Mississippi might simply mean the loss of free tickets for family and/or community service.

All the SEC schools the AP looked at had far more lenient drug policies than the NCAA, though the penalties varied widely.

The NCAA conducts its own drug checks and leaves testing policies to the schools, but the governing body released a report in January saying that more than a quarter of college football players admitted in 2009 that they smoked marijuana in the previous year.

Just how many suspensions for recreational drug use are handed down in the SEC or any NCAA-affiliated conference is unknown because privacy rules prohibit schools from disclosing positive tests. They're not even required to tell the NCAA.

However, several SEC standouts have been in the news recently.

Former Auburn running back Michael Dyer testified in an April court case involving a teammate that he consistently smoked synthetic marijuana during his Tigers career, LSU star Tyrann Mathieu was suspended one game for violating the team's drug policy last year and Georgia All-America safety Bacarri Rambo could miss a game or two next season for failing a drug test.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork, who was hired in March, is hoping to strengthen his school's policy by the middle of the summer. Currently, a second positive test at Mississippi might simply mean the loss of free tickets for family and/or community service.

A third positive requires suspension for three games or events. Subsequent violations call for three games tacked onto that, though the athletic director and head coach can dismiss the athlete or opt not to renew the scholarship.

"We need to tighten it up quite a bit and come up with a good policy for everyone involved," Bjork said.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said a conference-wide standard has been discussed at least twice during his 10-year tenure but that league members have opted against one to this point.

Drug testing was briefly discussed at the SEC meetings this week in Destin, Fla. Presidents and athletic directors agree action needs to be taken and say it will be a priority at their meetings in October once they have gathered more conference-wide data.

In the meantime, schools are left to handle situations.