The announcement Monday that Waterloo was shutting down its football program for the next year should not come as a surprise to any observer of university football.
The main reason is that Bob Copeland, the athletic director at Waterloo showed incredible leadership in tackling this issue head-on when it was brought to his attention that Nathan Zettler was under investigation for trafficking banned substances (human growth hormone and steroids) back in March.
Copeland showed incredible guts calling in the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and for footing at nearly $20,000 bill to begin investigating the breadth of this problem at his institution. And just simply saying that they caught nine drug cheats, well that would have been enough in some people’s books.
But not mine. I think that Mr. Copeland and the University of Waterloo are showing incredible diligence to see how deep this problem actually is within the football team and possibly in other programs.
For that, I applaud them.
However, I think in the situation of other K-W based school, it’s not so clear and it’s unfortunate.
I knew about the Laurier situation in which the CCES went to the wrong location to test Golden Hawk players in early April and was shocked that no media person in the K-W region asked questions at the time. Heck, in the media conference Monday, there were only a couple of questions about the situation, with the most pointed one coming from yours truly. I’ll get to the response in a moment.
In case you didn’t hear what was said during the press conference Monday, here’s the gist of what happened.
Once the situation became public, Waterloo hired the CCES to come in and test the team. Laurier, Guelph and McMaster were also targeted due to strategic assessments by the CCES and CIS.
CCES and Laurier’s athletic department arranged for testing of the football team, but somehow CCES went to the wrong venue and Laurier players were never tested.
Which leaves an air of suspicion over the entire process.
When I pressed CCES president and chief executive officer Paul Melia for an explanation to what happened and why the Hawks were not tested, here is the response that was provided:
Question: "Paul, why was it not possible for the CCES to test the Golden Hawks the next day? It seems a little odd that you weren’t able to test the school in the same market after the miscommunication as to the location one day."So I still wonder, why was it that 24-hours later, a test could not be conducted on the team that plays and practises down the street from the now suspended program?
Response: Again, in light of what I've explained already, when we called off that attempted mission on March 31, I think it was, it was our assessment that, you know, we could do more effective testing using the resources we had if we got locations and information on some of the physical performances on some of those athletes and went to more intelligence form of testing. So the athletes on that football team are of great interest to us and that all athletes in CIS football in particular, they should be aware that they can be tested at any time, anywhere. They can get a door knock at any time.
I wondered if it was because the banned substances in question were of the cutting edge, or designer type, the ones that require blood samples instead of urine samples because they can be flushed from the system in an incredibly short period of time.
To which Mr. Melia responded:
"... We also take into consideration that athletes who might be involved with banned substances are knowledgeable also about how, you know, the clearance times of those substances and how to get those substances out of their systems more quickly ...Now it makes CIS football players look like they know how to beat the system because the CIS mandates that all athletes go through a mandatory anti-doping training before EACH and EVERY season.
The problem I have with Mr. Melia's answers are that they don’t explain how the error occurred. Even if everyone accepts the CIS anti-doping system is woefully underfunded by federal agencies, it opens the door just a little to the general public suspecting the team down the street.
It was Mr. Melia himself spoke about the Laurier situation during his opening remarks, saying that there was a miscommunication between the CCES and Laurier.
He never elaborated and in this day and age of communication, how was it that the CCES was unable to connect with anyone involved in the WLU athletic program when in my opinion, WLU is one of the most technologically advanced departments in the CIS.
Despite having the opportunity on a couple of occasions to explain what, if any changes the CCES has made in its testing to ensure that this situation does not repeat itself in the future, he didn’t. And that does not help to instill greater confidence in the system.
Yes, human error happens. Yes, Laurier’s athletic department was thanked for its cooperation in the investigation and no, I am not trying to insinuate anything about the Laurier football program. To the contrary, I have nothing but the utmost respect for the folks at Laurier, especially coach Gary Jeffries, having worked with him for the better part of the past decade.
But what I see is the potential for the general public to have suspicion about the WLU football program. And it’s because the miscommunication was not fully explained and that a teamwide follow-up test was not coordinated.
Monday, while we saw one school take bold step forward to rebuild the public trust in Canadian university football, a simple miscommunication may leave another under a cloud of suspicion.
And that’s not acceptable.
John Bower is a freelance broadcaster and producer who covers the CIS for the Streaming Sports Network. Each fall he hosts CIS Touchdown, the official online program of university football in Canada and during the winter is the voice of CIS women’s ice hockey and the host of CIS Women’s Hockey Weekly.