Kristian Fulton is caught in a perfect storm of punitive rule making.
There is nothing which causes sports fans to lose their minds more thoroughly than the mere hint of drugs. The moral panic that ensues from the possibility someone, somewhere might be chemically benefiting from science is all-encompassing.
In order to fight the grand Drug Menace, fans have largely conceded to the major sports near unlimited powers to find drug users and mete out the most punitive sentence they can devise. This is despite the fact that the line between what is an illegal drug and what is a perfectly fine supplement is so small as to virtually not exist. As a layperson, I really have no idea what is the difference.
Which is to say, I ran out of outrage over drugs in sports a long time ago. It is entirely likely that a large majority of athletes I have ever watched in my entire life were under the influence of some pharmaceutical that is against the rules of the sport.
And while we scrupulously hunt down any trace of PED’s, we turn a blind eye to the amount of pain killers that are legally supplied to athletes, football players in particular. We are in the midst of a nationwide opioid crisis, yet the one drug we all seem to shrug off athletes using is the one that is killing thousands of people each year.
So the NCAA isn’t special by having draconian drug rules. That’s par for the course in sports these days, and it is likely not going to change any time in the near future. If you fail a drug test, you are suspended for a year, and that’s the rule. I don’t think it’s a particularly good rule, but that’s neither here nor there.
If the punishment for a failed drug test is one year, then missing or tampering with a drug test must carry the same sentence. Otherwise, players would have the incentive to simply not show up and take a lesser punishment. So if the rule states one year for a failure, then a missed test has to count as any other failure.
Which is to say, even though I think the NCAA’s punishments for a single failed drug test is overly harsh, the rule is the rule. And if you’ve created an enforcement mechanism, tampering is the same as a failure. I don’t like the rule, but Kristian Fulton would have been treated fairly by the system if he had been suspended for a year for tampering with a drug test.
What is insane is that he wasn’t suspended for a year for failing a test, he was suspended for two years. A college athlete’s career is just four years and for an elite football recruit like Fulton, it might only be three years. He has lost one-half to two-thirds of his college athletic career thanks to one test that may or may not have been tampered with.
Even worse, Fulton only had 48 hours to appeal the decision. Shock of all shocks, he could not mount an effective defense in such a short time. This system is designed to give the appearance of due process while actually providing none. The NCAA checks all the procedural boxes, but forces it on such a compressed time frame that receiving substantial due process is a near impossibility.
Fulton was robbed of two years of his career by an overly harsh rulebook, and then was provided no real opportunity to challenge the decision. His lawyers now are challenging the sample protocol, as well as the stunning lack of due process, but are being wisely cagey about the details of the appeal.
The reasons for his suspension have been held in secret. Hell, the suspension itself was not publicly disclosed, as Orgeron continually listed Fulton as “Doubtful” on the injury report, knowing full well he couldn’t play due to an NCAA ruling. A double secret probation is the sort of thing that is only supposed to happen in Animal House.
The NCAA is not known for taking the rights of student athletes all that seriously, so I’d be shocked if Fulton wins his appeal. His secret suspension will be arbitrated in a secret proceeding, which is always the best recipe for justice. I’m always supremely confident in proceedings shrouded in mystery in which the judge and the prosecutor are the same entity.
The sad fact of the matter is that Kristian Fulton would have been better off committing a violent crime. If he had done that, he would almost certainly be playing this season, without NCAA sanction. But since he might have once taken a drug, despite an entire year of clean tests, he will likely be ruled ineligible to play in order to satisfy the mob’s Moral Panic.
Thank God the NCAA is on the case to protect our virtue.