MIAMI, DEC. 31 -- University of Miami players George Mira Jr. and John O'Neill cannot play in the Orange Bowl national championship game against No. 1 Oklahoma, the NCAA ruled yesterday, refusing to lift suspensions issued when the two failed drug tests last week.
The denial came as a Dade County Circuit Court judge heard testimony in the case of the two players, who also are seeking an injuction to regain their eligibility. But Miami Athletic Director Sam Jankovich has said he would not allow the two to play unless they were cleared by the NCAA, for fear of incurring sanctions that could include the loss of $2.5 million in bowl money.
Linebacker Mira and offensive lineman O'Neill were originally declared ineligible on Christmas Eve when NCAA prebowl drug tests showed they had used the diuretic Lasix. The prescription drug is banned by the NCAA because it can mask use of anabolic steroids.
The players filed suit last week in Dade County Circuit Court seeking an injuction to prevent them from being suspended. But Judge Michael Salmon adjourned today's hearing for 90 minutes while the players and their attorneys, as well as representatives from Miami, used his office to participate in the NCAA appeal by way of telephone conference.
After almost 12 hours in the courtroom, all parties agreed to end their arguments last night and Salmon said they would reconvene at 9:30 a.m. when he would make a ruling. Mira's attorney, W. Sam Holland, asked the judge to decide the case before the game because a favorable ruling could possibly help Mira gain compensatory damages in the future should he nevertheless be prevented from playing by the NCAA.
Mira struck a television cameras with his palm on his way out of the courthouse.
The NCAA denial ended for all practical purposes any chance the players had of participating in the New Year's Day game. "The issue is closed as far as I personally and professionally am concerned," Jankovich said.
Mira and O'Neill have insisted they did not take the drug to hide steroid use, but because of medical need. Mira claims he has a family history of water retention, while O'Neill said he has a "shy bladder" and was afraid he could not complete the drug test.
Miami officials used those claims to file the appeal with the NCAA's executive committee, which has the power to declare an exception in diuretics use "for those student-athletes with a documented medical history demonstrating a need for regular use of such a drug," according to bylaw 1-7-D. Attorneys for the players had requested the action from the school on the basis of "new evidence."
However, the executive committee found the players were not entitled to the exemption because they could not prove "medical need" and "regular use."
According to court testimony, Mira took a Lasix pill on just three occasions dating back to last summer, as a remedy for water retention after consuming excessive amounts of alchohol and salty food. Mira has said the diuretic was given to him by a friend who is a registered nurse.
O'Neill claims to have used the diuretic only on Dec. 10, the day before drug testing, because, he said, he knew he suffered from an inability to urinate regularly and was afraid he would miss an English exam later that morning. His attorneys cited an instance of prior testing when it took him more than two hours to complete the procedure.
During NCAA drug testing, players are asked if they are taking medication, and also must fill out a form listing any drugs they have taken. Neither Mira nor O'Neill informed the NCAA they had used a diuretic.
Both players testified today they did not tell the NCAA because they did not realize the drug was banned. Both said they had only heard the drug referred to as a "water pill" and did not know it was also called a diuretic.
The two took new drug tests this week, and the results were negative. The tests were submitted as evidence in court today.
Jankovich said NCAA Executive Director Dick Schultz and all of the 12 committee members took part in the conference call. He said attorneys for the players gave brief statements, each player was allowed to speak and then lengthy question and answer sessions ensued. O'Neill chose to address the committee; Mira did not.
The executive committee took roughly an hour to deny the appeal. That left it to the court proceedings, which resumed while the NCAA was deliberating.
Attorneys for Mira and O'Neill continued to argue against the NCAA's right to test the players, and to test specifically for diuretics.