Aire Justin made a mistake, a big one, and he’s the first to admit it. His error was that much more confounding because Washington State operates a robust nutritional program, one that continually educates, advises and warns their players on the dos and don’ts.
He exercised very poor judgment for a fifth year senior-to-be. But should that 6-day lapse of judgment cost him an entire year? And why do other transgressions so much worse than Justin’s result in no missed playing time at all?
JUSTIN, A 5-11, 158-POUND cornerback told Cougfan.com he was tested by the NCAA the first week of February and subsequently notified at the end of the month he had tested positive for a banned substance.
“It was from a friend of a friend, I thought it was just something creatine based (kre-alkaline). It wasn’t on the banned substances list. I looked it up myself to see it was on the banned list, and it wasn’t on there. But it obviously wasn’t (kre-alkaline),” said Justin.
Creatine isn’t banned by the NCAA. So what was it Justin took?
“It was a pill. I don’t even actually know what they (NCAA) said it was exactly… but (regardless) I thought it would be cleared up in appeal,” said Justin.
Still, why take it? After being in the WSU program four years, hearing over and over again the risks of taking a supplement that could be a banned substances, why take anything at all -- let alone something that's from "a friend of a friend?" Why take that risk? In talking with Justin, the answer is that he wasn’t strong enough at that moment, and gave into temptation.
“I’ve always had the pressures of being small, of having to gain weight,” said Justin. “I was trying to have a good season. I thought that I needed the weight to ward off injury, because I’ve always had to deal with injuries. If taking something would give me that weight and help me play this season, and if it would better my chances of possibly playing at the next level…
“At the end of last season the pressure just built up for me. It was a moment where I wanted to do something to make a change, so I wouldn’t worry about getting hurt again, so I would keep being able to keep helping my team. And hopefully be able to play at the next level.”
Justin says he weighed about 158 pounds when he began taking the substance. He weighed 158 pounds a few months later, when spring ball began. He weighed about 158 pounds last season, too. He’s 5-foot-11, and came to WSU four years earlier at 151 pounds. He said he’s never been able to add appreciable muscle like most football players do over the college careers.
But six days after starting to take the supplement, he wasn’t feeling quite so vulnerable about his playing weight. And so he stopped.
“I just thought I probably don’t need it. I wasn’t paying attention to it too much like I was before,” said Justin.
Justin’s appeals process included a conference call with the NCAA to try and overturn the one year suspension that was handed out when he tested positive. Everyone had their say, and the NCAA asked him several questions.
“I felt very good about it, I felt (my) argument was valid,” Justin says of the conference call. “…You would have thought they would have been more understanding, that they would overturn this.”
THE NCAA HAS been more “understanding” in other situations.
Star Oklahoma DT Dusty Dvoracek allegedly beat a man to the point the victim was in intensive care for five days. More allegations of alcohol-fueled violence surfaced, including at least two violent incidents in Oklahoma and Texas. The Big 12 wouldn’t grant him an extra fifth year. But the NCAA did, saying his illness, due to alcohol, met its criteria for reinstatement under rule NCAA 14.2.4, which provides for a hardship waiver if an athlete is unable to participate in all or most of a season due to incapacitating injury or illness.
Star Oregon QB Jeremiah Masoli plead guilty to second-degree burglary. A few months later he was cited for marijuana possession. Oregon then kicked him off their team. The NCAA denied his waiver request to Ole Miss, then subsequently overturned their own decision, saying he qualified for the graduate student transfer exemption.
Star USC WR Dwayne Jarrett for 13 months lived an apartment with another teammate that rented for an eye-popping $3,866 a month. But he only paid $650 in rent and 0$ in utilities -- the father of his teammate footed the vast remainder of the bill(s). The NCAA ruled Jarrett didn’t realize he should have been paying an equitable share (no, seriously). Further, after determining Jarrett received a whopping $18,001 in extra benefits (including utilities and after deducting the rent he did pay), the NCAA also ruled he had to repay only $5,352 of that $18,001.
Neither Jarrett, Masoli or Dvoracek was ever suspended by the NCAA, not a single game, for their actions.
But Justin has to miss an entire year? Ruled ineligible for at least 12 games? For taking a substance on the banned list for 6 days, a period of time so short no possible benefit could have been incurred?
Taking away an entire season should be reserved for the worst of the worst transgressions. And Justin’s doesn’t come close to rising to that threshold in comparison.
It was a very poor decision Justin made, and for that he should pay a price. Suspend him four games for the lack of judgment. That would be a hefty, but fair, price. If the NCAA wants to be seen as ultra tough, fine, go ahead and suspend him for half the season. Go ahead, adopt an overly penal stance – take away six games.
But to suspend for an entire year a student-athlete who didn’t receive an illegal benefit is wrong. When viewed through the prism of other student-athletes who have received substantial, violate benefits or committed crimes – and received no suspension at all – it’s hypocritical.
JUSTIN WILL REMAIN at Washington State. He just finished up finals and he’s already taking summer courses. He’ll be at WSU this upcoming term and graduate with his degree after the fall semester in 4 1/2 years. He’s not giving up his football dreams, and plans on competing at WSU’s Pro Day next year. But he won’t play another snap, in practice or on Saturdays, at Washington State.
“It’s going to be very tough not being out there with my team,” said Justin. “They’re my brothers and I spent four years with them. They have good guys coming in, too. I’m excited to see this next season and to see them play. I’m sure it’s going to be hard to be in the stands… but I’m going to support them.
“I’m not a bad person, I’m a good person. I wanted to help the team. And I’m sorry if I brought any kind of bad light to the program or organization. I wasn’t trying to do anything like that intentionally.”
The NCAA ought to care more about that than they do. They should have cared more about how much of a benefit he incurred, from an admittedly poor decision, and issued a penalty that was more appropriate and equitable. They should have known better.
Further reading -- Tough to swallow: Banned supplement has Grand Valley State football standout sidelined