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NFL, players closing in on drug policy changes

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A new NFL drug policy could drastically change the league's stance on as well as how it tests for HGH, marijuana and amphetamines. Players union reps have reportedly scheduled a call to finalize the deal on Tuesday afternoon.

Ronald Martinez

The NFL is closing in on an agreement with the NFL Players Association on new, less strict drug policy. The NFL Network is reporting that the player union reps from all 32 teams are scheduled to have a call on Tuesday afternoon to finalize the agreement, if the two sides can hammer out a few last-minute details.

At the forefront new policy, the league would begin blood testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH) for the first time in its history.The new policy also raises the levels of THC (found in marijuana) that can be found in a player's system before triggering a positive test. Positive tests for amphetamines during the offseason would be considered a violation of the substance abuse policy after being formerly being classified as a performance-enhancing drug, according to the NFL Network report.

A point of controversy was the league's DUI policy. The NFL has pushed for the power to suspend players arrested for driving under the influence before they have been given due process through the legal system.

Players tested for HGH for the first time

The NFL and NFLPA had seemingly come to an agreement to begin HGH testing more than a year ago, but a deal fell through over disagreements over the administration of the tests. Players wanted a wanted a third party to oversee testing, taking oversight away from the Roger Goodell and the league. Players will get their wish, sort of.

Players can appeal results of the testing in front of a neutral arbitrator, but Goodell will maintain rule over violations of the law or conduct related to a positive drug test -- think MLB suspending Alex Rodriguez for his connection to Biogenesis. In return, the players union had to give up its demand for population study that would establish a baseline level of HGH among athletes.

Amphetamines no longer a PED

The change in the classification of amphetamines is timely. Wide receiver Wes Welker and cornerback Orlando Scandrick recently tested positive for MDMA, a substance considered an amphetamine by the NFL. Under the old guidelines, a player who tested positive for amphetamines received an automatic four-game suspension if he was a first-time offender. Now that amphetamines are classified under substance abuse policy, first-time offenders will not be suspended, but entered into a private program.

THC threshold raised

The revised THC standard was a point of emphasis of the NFLPA. Previously, the NFL's threshold for THC was 15 nanograms per millimeter, which is significantly lower than the standard set by the World Anti-Doping Agency for Olympics competition (150 ng/mL) and the United States government (50 ng/mL). The league's new policy would raise the testing threshold to something along the lines of more common standards.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon would have avoided a season-long suspension if the NFL's adjusted THC threshold had been in place when he was drug tested this offseason. Gordon reported an "A" sample of 16 ng/mL and a "B" sample of 13.6 ng/mL. Unluckily for Gordon, based its ruling on the "A" sample and the "B," but both samples tested well below the league's new standard.

It's unknown how many fewer suspensions would have occurred had the NFL had been operating with these levels in the past, but the expectation is that player infractions because of marijuana will decrease.


Josh Gordon, Photo credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

NFL may reconsider 2014 suspensions

Though the revised policy would have drastically altered the cases of Welker, Scandrick and Gordon, it's unclear whether the policy will be applied retroactively to the suspended players. ESPN reported that owners have been pushing the league reconsider its initial rulings, but the NFL has never been apt to revisit cases once enforcement has begun. Getting the new policy in place has been a struggle in itself between the NFL and the player's union. Coming to an agreement on just how far back to retroactively apply the new policy, and what to do with past fines and lost wages may be too much to ask.

DUI hang up

Players reportedly pushed back against NFL demands that the league be able to suspend player before the full legal process has taken course. The NFL has reportedly dropped it's request for DUI arrests without due process, according to Albert Breer of NFL Network.