Offensive lineman Kolton Houston, who's about to suit up for the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time since April 2010, may not play a single down in the highly anticipated match-up against Clemson Saturday night, but his quest just to get onto the sidelines has made him a story. Houston has sat out for three seasons and been forced to undergo extreme measures to play the sport he loves, because he was found guilty of making an honest mistake. Meanwhile, Johnny Manziel will sit out only half of Texas A&M’s home opener against Rice, after both the school and the NCAA couldn’t prove that he benefited financially from several massive autograph signing sessions.
Really NCAA? Really?
For three seasons, Houston was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, because he tested positive for a banned substance, an anabolic steroid called Norandolone. The problem is, Houston wasn’t doping. Instead, before he even arrived in Athens, Georgia, he had a shoulder surgery, and afterward, a physician gave him a series of injections that — unknown to Houston — contained the banned substance. Even worse, the steroid wasn’t injected into muscle, where it does its job and then disappears, but into fat, where it remained until five of his fatty deposits were surgically removed. In addition to the surgery, Houston had to endure sauna treatments that put him in a 150 degree room eight hours a day for 30 days, and took more than 100 drug tests, to prove the Norandolone was leaving his system. All because of a mistake somebody else made.
Despite the fact that Houston wasn’t doping, the University of Georgia did not dispute the initial one-year ban. Ron Courson, Georgia's director of sports medicine, told CBSSports.com’s Tony Barnhart, “Everybody understood that the one-year ban would be in effect. Everyone admitted that a mistake had been made. That was the appropriate punishment.” However, the one-year ban was extended after a random drug test by the NCAA in February 2011; although the level of Norandolone had dropped by 90%, from 260 ng/mL to 26 ng/mL, the NCAA considered the test result to be evidence that Houston was still using, and banned him from college football for life.
This lack of perspective exhibited by the NCAA epitomizes college sports' misguided and overzealous crusade against performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). If Houston used PEDs to bench press 500 pounds, then this wouldn’t be a discussion, because yes, that’s cheating. But it's clear that the player took the drug unknowingly, and did so for obvious healing reasons. The one-year ban wasn’t disputed. Subsequent drug tests, given Houston’s medical history, should have served as evidence that he wasn’t doping, but the NCAA still insisted on administering the lifetime ban.
The NCAA's firm stance with regard to Houston seems even more warped when compared to the paltry half-game suspension given to Manziel. Yes, an investigation into Johnny Football’s mass autograph sessions concluded there was “no evidence” he benefited financially from the effort, but if you believe that, then you probably also believe that Manziel is the second-best quarterback in the Southeastern Conference right now.
Although the organization is responsible for the well-being of a wide spectrum of athletes, the NCAA’s unflinching stance on PED use, regardless of individual circumstances, and slap on the wrist for Manziel seem to reveal a clear difference in how it treats student athletes and college athletes. I’m guilty of being relieved that Manziel will be playing this season, but the rigidity of the NCAA’s system, and the obvious disparity in treatment, is unsettling, and the reasons for the enforcement of certain rules seem about as genuine as a Tarheel's love for Duke.