Report: Five Penn basketball players suspended due to failed drug test

When Penn men’s basketball coach Jerome Allen suspended five of his players for the December 22 game at Delaware, he said only that it was for a violation of team rules.

Now it appears that the nature of that violation has become public.

The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student newspaper, is reporting that the five players – juniors Miles Cartwright and Steve Rennard, sophomore Henry Brooks and freshmen Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry – failed random drug tests.

No information is yet known regarding what substance caused the failure. It also is not known whether the drug test was administered by Penn or by the NCAA.

That said, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported via two unnamed sources that the suspensions are expected to be lifted ahead of Penn’s next game, which is Saturday afternoon at Wagner.

This is significant for reasons beyond simply that of the players returning to action. It would imply that whatever testing and punishment was administered came from the institution.

I talked to a spokesperson for Penn’s athletic department and was informed that the athletic department and the university as a whole have been closed this week for the holidays. So there is no answer right now as to what process was undertaken.

But if the players do play this weekend, it could imply that the punishment came from outside of both the NCAA's jurisprudential process, and potentially that of Penn's athletic department as well. Here’s why.

The NCAA’s website states that both it and its member institutions conduct drug testing at schools:

The NCAA and its member schools share the responsibility of not only testing, but also educating student-athletes to prevent drug usage. The NCAA conducts testing at all of its championships, and programs in Divisions I and II through its year-round testing program.

In addition, the majority of institutions conduct their own institutional testing programs independent of NCAA drug testing. The NCAA spends more than $5 million annually on drug testing and education in an effort to deter the use of banned and harmful substances.

Furthermore, the NCAA requires schools that have their own drug policies to abide by those rules instead of the NCAA’s. As stated in Article 10.2 of the current NCAA Division I Manual:

10.2 Knowledge of use of Banned Drugs.

A member institution’s athletics department staff members or others employed by the intercollegiate athletics program who have knowledge of a student-athlete’s use at any time of a substance on the list of banned drugs, as set forth in Bylaw, shall follow institutional procedures dealing with drug abuse or shall be subject to disciplinary or corrective action as set forth in Bylaw 19.5.

The rule that institutional policy trumps NCAA policy in regard to drug testing and punishmen tis stated in plainer English on the NCAA's website:

Each NCAA member is responsible for determining whether to establish an institutional drug-testing program, at which time the school would be responsible for determining applicable penalties. If a testing program is established, though, the school is obligated to enforce the penalties. Failure to do so can lead to NCAA sanctions. 

So we turn to Penn's rules. The Student-Athlete Handbook issued by Penn’s athletic department states the following as regards punishment for athletes who found in possession of illegal substances:

NCAA Ineligibility for Use of Banned Drugs.

A student‐athlete who is found to have utilized a substance on the list of banned substances (including performance‐enhancing substances as well as recreational drugs) shall be declared ineligible for further participation in postseason and regular‐season competition during the time period ending one calendar year after the student‐athlete's positive drug test, and shall be charged with the loss of a minimum of one season of competition in all sports.  

The student‐athlete shall remain ineligible until the student‐athlete retests negative and the student‐athlete's eligibility is restored by the NCAA.  

- If the student‐athlete tests positive a second time for the use of any drug, other than a 'recreational drug', he or she shall lose all remaining regular‐season and postseason eligibility in all sports.  

-  If the student‐athlete tests positive for the use of a 'recreational drug' after being restored to eligibility, he or she shall lose a minimum of one additional season of competition in all sports and also shall remain ineligible for regular‐season and postseason competition at least through the next calendar year.  

In addition, Penn’s university-wide Alcohol and Drug Policy, as issued by the Vice Provost for University Life, states the following:

IV.  Consequences for Policy Violations

1. All University students are expected to comply with applicable local, state and federal laws regarding the possession, use or sale of alcohol or drugs, whether on or off-campus, and are expected to comply with all University regulations regarding alcohol possession or use. 

2. Any student or employee who violates University policies or applicable law may be subject to disciplinary sanctions and/or referral for prosecution. Disciplinary sanctions for students range from disciplinary warning to expulsion as provided by the Charter of the University's student disciplinary system.

The severity of the sanctions will depend, in part, on whether there have been repeated violations and on the seriousness of the misconduct. Employees found to be in violation of this policy or applicable law will be subject to University disciplinary procedures which may impose sanctions up to and including termination from employment and/or referral for prosecution.

The University also supports enforcement, by applicable law enforcement agencies, of all local, state and federal laws. 

This is all we know so far. I'm sure we'll hear more over the weekend and in the coming days, so as of now the best I can say is stay tuned.