CIS football's problem is not doping, it's funding

It has not been a great week for CIS sports.

On the heels of the announcement Sportsnet's dropping of OUA football coverage, the other Canada sports broadcasting has jumped in with their own news: three CIS* football players tested positive for banned substances at the 2014 CFL Combine in Edmonton, Alta. 

There is an asterisk here because, well, there are holes in the details of TSN's story. Andrew Bucholtz's of The 55-Yard Line (and this tiny corner of the sporting blog world) pointed out the issues.

So, it could be three CIS players, and to narrow it down, three CanWest players. The only players at that Edmonton combine were from the Canadian Junior Football League and CanWest football programs. From Rick Westhead's piece, CIS President Pierre Lafontaine confirmed that "multiple players" tested positive. Possibly just an oddity in the writing, but we'll operate under the assumption that some CIS football players have been caught taking a banned substance.

Westhead's take on the situation is that there is a funding problem for the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and it is hard to disagree with him. According to his article, the cost to do a single drug test is $1,000. The majority of the fee goes to labs and doping control officers. As it stands, the CCES receives $5.4 million in funding from the federal government and has been frozen at that for "recent years." The responsibility to fund doping tests should not fall solely on the government, but at this rate, it is almost entirely on the shoulders of the league.

CIS football probably has a doping problem, but there's just no money to do the tests. The government wants Olympic athletes tested, according to Westhead, and there are not many Olympians that play CIS football.

The actual problem here is the shoestring budget that the league operates on and the side-effects of that. I am not naive, money rules many things around the CIS, but this is a little bit of a bigger issue than our best athletes going to the NCAA or something. Outside of hockey, sports are funded poorly in this country and you are seeing the ugly side of it here, but I would hope that taking (potentially) dangerous drugs would be discouraged more than they are right now.

The financial incentive to take a PED is not as glamorous as it is for athletes in the NCAA, but there's an incentive nonetheless. Success at the CIS level could translate in to a CFL contract as well as NFL training camp dollars. Playing the game you love for money cannot be measured by dollars only.
The CIS pledges to donate more money to police this, but that is not money well spent. If they invest more money from their already limited budget, at $1000 a test, how many athletes are you testing? Percentage-wise, how much higher could they go?

Going forward, costs will rise with new rules from the World Anti-Doping Agency looming. I am not saying test all the athletes, but there has to be more than what we have. Seeing more players getting tested could scare off potential users.

But like I said, this comes down to money, something the CIS is not flush with. The league could step up and spend more money on it, which would be commendable. Here's another idea, and I am just spitballing.

The CIS receives a certain percentage of money from the teams that are willing to spend over an established threshold. A doping cap, I guess. There are probably definitely issues with this I haven't thought of yet - like how you establish that cap figure - but it would discourage teams from spending Laval-esque amounts of money (parity!) and give the league more money to police and maintain an equal playing field.

To end, I do not think this is an issue we will see resolved any time soon. The Twitter discussion makes it seem like this is a long-standing issue and the government's funding freeze shows that they are not interested in stopping it. 10 days until the CIS football season though! Get excited!

Update: CCES has issued a statement about the TSN story. Nothing major, but important to including their release

(I eagerly await the first CIS football story from TSN that isn't a Canadian Press wire pick up. Who knows when it will come?)

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