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Stanford athletes' drug-test victory puts NCAA on defensive. California ruling limited, but expected to have wide impact

The National Collegiate Athletic Association plans to continue testing student athletes for drug use, despite last week's ruling by a California court that the program is in need of some fine-tuning. In one of the first legal tests of mandatory drug screening for civilians, a Superior Court judge ruled that student athletes at Stanford University experienced an unconstitutional invasion of their privacy when they were required to submit urine samples for testing.

The decision ``unquestionably'' will have a far-reaching impact, even though it directly applies only to Stanford, says Robert Van Nest, attorney for two student athletes who filed suit against the NCAA. ``This is the first major challenge in which extensive evidence about the drug program was presented and considered by the judge.''

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A college athlete ``in Florida, Georgia, Maine, or anywhere else can look to this decision and say, `This program violates not only the California constitution, but also my rights under the US Constitution','' Mr. Van Nest adds.

The NCAA, however, says the decision's impact is narrow, affecting only Stanford athletes. ``It will have no immediate impact [on the overall drug-testing program],'' says NCAA spokesman Jim Marchiony. ``It's too early to tell [about long-term impacts]. We're still studying the judge's decision.''

The NCAA adopted the drug-testing program in January 1986, amid concern that use of illegal drugs and body-building steroids was on the rise in college athletics. Any athlete competing in the NCAA's championship events, including post-season football bowl games, became subject to random testing for a wide array of stimulants, anabolic steroids, diuretics, and street drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. The first tests were administered to college athletes last fall.

Of the 3,511 students tested in the program's first year, ``a little over 2 percent tested positive for a banned drug,'' says NCAA spokesman Frank Uryasz.

According to testimony presented in court, 31 of the 34 students who were declared ineligible for competition were football players. All but one of those players tested positive for steroids or cocaine.

In his ruling, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Conrad Rushing said the NCAA failed to demonstrate a need for testing ``so compelling that it justifies massive intrusion into plaintiffs' privacy rights.''

Judge Rushing - noting that drug use appears to be limited to football and men's basketball, and that the problem centers on steroids and cocaine - said the current testing program is ``overbroad.'' He banned urine tests outright for most sports at Stanford, and he ordered the NCAA to revise its tests for football and men's basketball players there.

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The NCAA's drug-testing program has faced several earlier challenges - with mixed results. The NCAA won a case in federal court brought by a Louisiana football player who was not allowed to play in last year's Sugar Bowl.

But a Washington state judge issued an order in July saying the University of Washington's drug-testing program was unconstitutional, although the case has now been transferred to federal court.

While applauding the California ruling, Van Nest says his clients - a football linebacker and a co-captain of the women's soccer team - ``were disappointed the decision was not even more far-reaching in doing away with the program altogether.''

``The whole reason for the program is to ensure fair competition, but there's no evidence that steroids or any other drug enhance athletic ability,'' Van Nest says.

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