Michigan forward Mitch McGary will enter the NBA draft following two collegiate seasons after he was suspended for one year by the NCAA for failing a drug test during the NCAA tournament, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports reports in a story that’s both fascinating for the candor involved from McGary and Michigan, and frustrating because of the NCAA’s fractured take on drug-testing.
McGary was a breakout star of the 2013 NCAA tournament, leading the Wolverines to the national title game as a freshman, but he was limited to just eight games last season because of a back injury.
One night in mid-March, with the NCAA tournament about to begin without him, McGary was hanging out with a group of friends at Michigan. He had a few drinks. Someone offered some marijuana – a common occurrence, he said, on campus.
“I always turned it down,” McGary told Yahoo Sports. “But that night I didn’t.”
Less than two weeks later, McGary “dressed” for the Wolverines’ Sweet 16 game against Tennessee. He was never going to play, but coach John Beilein thought the sight of him in maize and blue on the sideline, pumping up his teammates, would add some enthusiasm. Michigan eked out a 73-71 win.
Amid the post-victory celebration, an NCAA representative told McGary that he, of all people, had been selected to undergo a random drug test, even though he hadn’t played in months.
A week later, after Michigan was knocked out of the tournament, McGary was contemplating whether to enter the NBA draft or return for his junior season. Coming back would allow him to prove his back was fine and continue enjoying life in Ann Arbor. His play could bolster his NBA draft stock. It was an attractive option.
That’s when he was called into a meeting with Beilein and athletic director Dave Brandon. They told him he failed the drug test during the NCAA tournament. Then they informed him of the NCAA’s harsh penalty for a first failed test: a minimum one-year suspension from all competition.
If he wanted to play college ball again, it wouldn’t be until the 2015-16 season.
NCAA rules, at least the rules in place when McGary failed his drug test, state that failing a test administered by the NCAA results in an automatic ban of one calendar year. The NCAA only administers drug tests during championships. The rest of the year, it allows schools to drug-test on their own and allows them to set their own punishments, which vary from school to school.
If McGary had failed a test administered by Michigan, he only would have been punished by a one-week layoff from team activities and a suspension of 10 percent of the regular season. If McGary had merely been a college student who had been caught by Ann Arbor police with marijuana and found guilty of a first-time offense, he would have been fined $25.
The NCAA voted to change its punishment for failing a drug test on April 15. Going forward, athletes who fail an NCAA drug test will be suspended for only half a season as opposed to one calendar year. Just weeks before the change, McGary and Michigan appealed his one-year suspension, which the NCAA denied, declining to apply the new, lowered standard in this case because the failed drug test occurred under the former rules.
“I don’t think the penalty fits the crime. I think one year is overdoing it a little bit,” McGary told Wetzel.
Such candor from McGary was refreshing, considering how much teams try to limit access to players, especially college athletes.
Mitch McGary made a mistake, but one thing he has always been is a stand-up guy. Give him credit for going public with this.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) April 25, 2014
McGary also admitted his failed drug test in a news release issued by Michigan, which fully supports its now-former basketball player.
“Mitch has had a tremendous impact on our program from the moment he committed to us,” Coach John Beilein said in the news release. “He has injected an enthusiasm that cannot be matched. This is why he is loved by the coaching staff, his teammates and Wolverine fans. The progress he has made on and off the court has been outstanding. His willingness to face a personal issue head on and his positive work ethic during his recent injury have helped him to grow in many ways. We know that he will put all of his energy and effort toward achieving his goals. We will continue to assist and support Mitch as he pursues a career in the NBA.”