Collegiate Athlete Drug Testing: A Difference Between NCEA and IHSA You Might Not Have Thought About

Photo © Heather N. Photography


When it comes to collegiate riding, most prospective student-athletes consider the school, academics, atmosphere, reputation, location, and other various factors during the application process. However, one aspect of collegiate sports that may often be overlooked is drug testing. While this may have zero effect on some student-athletes, others may choose to consider these policies when deciding their choice of school. 

Each institution has their own policy and protocol when it comes to drugs and alcohol. However, being on an NCEA team requires student athletes to also adhere to NCAA, conference, and their school’s athletic program policies. The NCAA has one blanket policy that every student-athlete, regardless of their sport, must abide by, and some rules may not be what you expect. 

NCAA Policies states that for Division I athletes, the following substances are banned, as well as any chemically/ pharmacologically substance that is related to any of these categories:

  • Stimulants
  • Anabolic Agents
  • Alcohol and Beta Blockers
  • Diuretics/Masking Agents
  • Narcotics
  • Cannabinoids
  • Peptide Hormones, Growth Factors, Related Substances and Mimetics
  • Hormone and Metabolic Modulators
  • Beta-2 Agonists

Additionally, there is a list of substances and methods that are subject to restrictions that includes:

  • Blood and gene doping 
  • Local anesthetics (permitted under some conditions)
  • Manipulation of urine samples
  • Beta-2 agonists (permitted only by inhalation with prescription)

The NCAA also warns student-athletes that certain nutritional/dietary supplements such as daily vitamins may cause positive drug tests as they are not well-regulated. 

In order to properly educate student-athletes on these regulations, the NCAA recommends institutions to develop a written policy for alcohol and other recreational substances and provide a thorough orientation at the beginning of the year with the proper compliance forms, information, and education. 

In terms of testing, all Division I and II athletes are subject to testing year-round. The penalties for the use of banned substances varies for Division I, II, and III student-athletes. 

On top of the NCAA policies, most institutions and conferences are able to test student-athletes at random. Each school and conference has their own specific rules regarding timelines and substances, but many drug tests screen for similar substances listed in the NCAA Drug Testing Program.

In contrast, the 2021-2022 IHSA rulebook only has one rule that involves alcohol and drugs. Section 4903 prohibits the possession of alcohol and any illegal substance on show grounds. While teams may have their individual policies, the organization as a whole does not enforce any ban on drugs/alcohol in daily life or testing for the given substances. 

Institutions will additionally have their own policies regarding drugs and alcohol, but these may vastly vary from school to school; however, the NCAA has the power over every institution that has an NCAA program. 

While these policies may have little or no effect on your decision-making process when applying to college, it’s important to be aware of the rules not only for yourself, but to watch out for your teammates and peers too. 

We asked current and former student-athletes student-athletes to anonymously shared their opinions on the collegiate drug testing policies: 

“It’s a bit of a toss-up for me—when committing to an NCAA sport, you are making that sacrifice to forgo some of the college experiences like parties. While there is compromise to an extent, at the end of the day you are at the school to perform as a student-athlete, which means not only prioritizing your education, but also your sport and your image as a representation of your university. However, the one thing I do suspect is an inequality of punishment across specific sports. From scenarios I have witnessed during my time as a student-athlete, it definitely seemed as if certain sports were able to get away with a lot more than others. To me, if a policy is in place for all athletes, I believe it should be reinforced that way, regardless of how much popularity or income a sport brings in.”  

“I believe drug testing is absolutely necessary to ensure there is no use of performance enhancing drugs or substance abuse issues among student-athletes. The major issue with NCAA testing is that in addition to NCAA rules that govern punishment lengths and types across sports, coaches are left to decide what additional sanctions to put in place. Per the NCAA’s website, ‘The purpose of the drug-testing program is to deter student-athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs, and it impacts the eligibility of student-athletes who try to cheat using performance enhancing drugs.’. These tests show levels of illegal substances in addition to drugs with performance enhancing potential. Coaches use test results from NCAA drugs tests including failed results for non-performance enhancing drugs like marijuana as a basis for punishment. This punishment is up to the coach’s discretion and depending on their personal beliefs, they can choose to immediately dismiss a scholarship athlete from the team even though the NCAA suggests addiction counseling as the solution. The varied ways punishments for failed drugs tests gets enforced should be examined and a standardized approach should be adopted and coaches should be monitored to ensure no further sanctions are taken. While this may not be the case at every school, I have seen some coaches choosing to look the other way when they suspect one of their athletes to be using drugs. Personally, I think it’s a good thing that the NCAA test for all substances that are illegal and that are performance-enhancing, but I think failed results for illegal substances are addiction-based substances shouldn’t be reported to the coach unless it’s a performance enhancing drug. Instead, it should only be reported to an addiction counselor in order to not sway the coach’s opinion about the athlete as a person because there are some strong opinions about drug use and character.”

“I believe that institutions need to look into the root cause for recreational drug use instead of being so quick to punish student athletes for drug use. Whether the reason may be to cope with high amounts of stress, anxiety, body soreness from rigorous workouts and practices etc, institutions and administrators should take the time to address these issues and to make the student-athlete environment more understanding in terms of certain issues.”