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Web program a winner for college athletes

A new web-based information system, called myPlaybook, aims to demystify the NCAA’s drug policy for college athletes and help them make good choices.

David Wyrick, a researcher and professor at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro who helped create the program, sat through the "Just Say No" lectures about the dangers of drug use during his college basketball days at Elon. Yet, when it came to NCAA drug guidelines and testing, Wyrick knew he didn’t have a clue.

"I didn’t know what we were getting tested for," he said in a telephone interview. "I didn’t know why I was peeing in this cup."

myPlaybook outlines drug-testing requirements, details substances banned by the NCAA, and provides outreach for athletes in the struggle to make good choices. A pilot program took place in about 60 Division II schools last fall. The results were so promising that the 12 Southern Conference members will be the first in Division I to test myPlaybook this year.

The NCAA greenlighted the Division I study.

"It’s really the only program out there that is targeted to NCAA athletes [and] was created with NCAA policy in mind," said Mary Wilfert, the NCAA’s associate director for health and safety. "So I think that’s one of the reasons we’re feeling pretty good about this resource for our student athletes."

If Wyrick has his wish, college athletes will access myPlaybook to get information he never had at Elon. He remembers shuffling off to a gym bathroom for postgame drug tests and leaving with questions. What was his sample screened for? How were tests processed? What were the consequences for those who failed?

The NCAA requires athletes to sign a testing consent form, which says they’ve learned what’s allowed and what’s forbidden. "Almost across the board, the only education going on about those banned substances was giving [students] a list, which doesn’t tell them anything," Wyrick said.

Wyrick brought his concerns into his research. "I always knew I wanted to do something specific for athletes," he said.

He and his research partner, Melodie Fearnow-Kenney, created a course tailored for athletes suddenly dropped into the frenzied world of college classes and NCAA regulations.

Participants log in to an online, hour-long course. There’s a video about NCAA banned substances, drug education, and testing.

A series of exercises follow. An athlete is quizzed on the differences between drug classes such as diuretics and urine manipulators, street drugs or steroids. They are given real-life scenarios they might face as a new student, like reacting to peer pressure from older athletes on using drugs or alcohol.

They get instant feedback about their choices and recommendations to learn more. There’s also a recap of the course and other resources they can use for follow-up questions or research.

In the Division II study, more than 2,800 mostly first-year student athletes took part. The results, published in March, showed that student-athlete knowledge on drug use and how it affected their sports career increased, as did awareness of NCAA banned substances.

The simplicity, anonymity, and early effectiveness of myPlaybook won over Southern Conference administrators and coaches, league commissioner John Iamarino said.

The athletes will voluntarily participate and finish at their pace. It is not, he said, a backdoor attempt to uncover drug cheats.

"They sign up, but it’s kind of at their will, which I think is a good way to learn," Iamarino said. "It’s internet based, so you can kind of be a little bit more anonymous."

Athletes also can be updated through booster programs using social networks. "We can have access to them for a longer time," Wyrick said. "With the technology, you can stay in touch with these student-athletes throughout their whole college experience."

The NCAA says more pilot studies are ahead before a mass rollout of myPlaybook. Wyrick said the NCAA plans to offer 40 $2,000 grants for schools interested in using myPlaybook. "They’re going to get bombarded," he predicted.

myPlaybook likely won’t replace expert lecturers or one-on-one talks with school counselors in advancing the NCAA’s anti-drug message. But Wilfert says Wyrick’s program brings the informational fight to popular social media networks young athletes have mastered.

"We don’t want to put it out there as the only means of addressing those issues," she said. "But we think it does provide that standardized, foundational information NCAA student athletes need to have."




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