Waterloo suspends football program

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:29 PM ET

Luke Balch arrived at the University of Waterloo four years ago hoping to be part of a football resurgence.

Instead, the senior quarterback and captain showed up at school Monday to discover the Warriors program suspended for a year, head coach Dennis McPhee and his staff placed on paid administrative leave, his final season washed away and his team sinking under the weight of the most significant doping scandal in Canadian university history.

Feridun Hamdullahpur, Waterloo VP, Academic and Provost, pulled the plug on the football program and put it under immediate review after the Warriors’ submission to full-team testing uncovered nine potential anti-doping infractions, according to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.

“It’s a shock,” said Balch, a London native. “I didn’t expect them to do anything like this. I thought they’d suspend the guys who tested positive. It feels like they’re trying to make an example of us.

“My last year of playing football is gone. It’s a huge disappointment.”

On March 31, the CCES collected 62 urine samples from Warriors players and also conducted 20 blood tests, from which results have yet to be obtained.

There were four admissions of guilt, three “adverse analytical findings,” one refusal to test and one case pending a police investigation. Only linebackers Jordan Meredith and Joe Surgenor were named and both received two-year bans.

The discovery of a potential drug problem at Waterloo, a school more renowned for its computer science and engineering programs than athletics, didn’t come from testing. It stemmed from the spring arrest of ex-Warriors receiver Nathan Zettler for possession and trafficking steroids.

Waterloo football appeared on the road back to respectability under McPhee. It finished 3-5 last year and missed the playoffs but had a tonne of young talent. After years of playing on Wilfrid Laurier’s turf, they finally secured an on-campus home field of their own.

“The decision wasn’t made lightly and I fully support the university’s actions,” Waterloo athletic director Bob Copeland said. “It’s gut-wrenching. It’s a setback to our program. But this is bigger than football. The players know they aren’t supposed to take steroids. What we’re going to try to find out is why some of them still decided to do it anyway.

“We feel like we’ve done the right things in response to this.”

Not including Waterloo’s request, the CCES performed 202 drug tests on Canadian Interuniversity Sport athletes in 2009-10. Eighty-nine of those were football players and just over half (45) were out-of-season target tests.

The CIS requested additional testing at neighbouring schools to find out if the scandal was regional in nature. Guelph and McMaster didn’t turn up any positive results.

Tests at Laurier — just one block from Waterloo — never happened because of what CCES president Paul Melia called a “miscommunication” between drug-testing personnel and the school on when the players would be available.

One former Warrior indicated that suspending the team would kill recruiting and spell the demise of Waterloo’s football program. A group of players, barred from a press conference announcing their team’s suspension, confronted CIS chief executive officer Marg McGregor afterward about their potential options.

Players looking to transfer to another football-playing institution will likely to have to file for what the CIS terms “a compassionate appeal” since the Warriors team is essentially still in existence.

Balch isn’t interested in moving on.

“I’m in my fifth year,” he said. “I’ll just finish school. But I know a lot of guys will look at that possibility. I don’t regret my decision to come here. I have four years of great memories.”

This isn’t one of them.

The Ontario university conference is, suddenly, a nine-team league in 2010 and needs an instant schedule makeover. It looks like bye weeks are in the cards now.

“Tickets have already been sold so we need to figure this out in a hurry,” Western head coach Greg Marshall said. “I feel really bad for the Waterloo players who are clean and the coaches (McPhee was Marshall’s defensive line coach with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats). They have a lot of talent over there and it’s a tough situation for them.

“This has to be a wake-up call for all of us. We need to do a better job of educating players about this and there are more things we can do for the players we’re bringing in (at the high school level).”

The Canadian Football League, McGregor said, is on its way to having a drug policy in its next collective bargaining agreement. That’s a plus for the CIS, which produces several players for the CFL.

Melia said it could cost about $1 million to run the kind of increased drug testing program the CIS has discussed, but there is no one willing to pay for those kind of resources.

The players who tested positive, Copeland said, didn’t necessarily fit the prototype of the ripped-muscle drug abuser.

“There’s a misconception that you look at the biggest guy in the room and test him,” he said, “and that’s not fair. These guys wouldn’t have been tested (if they didn’t test the whole team). They didn’t fit the profile.”

Throwing money at drug testing isn’t the best answer, said Don Hooton, president of the Taylor Hooton Foundation for educating youth on the dangers of anabolic steroids. Don’s son, who committed suicide from steroid use, became a central figure during baseball’s congressional hearings on the subject five years ago.

“My son played on a baseball team where 75% of the team was using and when they were drug tested, there were zero positives,” Hooton said. “Too many times, leagues see a low number of positives and get comfortable with that. It’s not just about giving kids a list of drugs and telling them not to use them. It’s not just about punishment. It’s educating them and showing them why they shouldn’t be taking them in the first place.”


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