BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - If Tyrann Mathieu played at Auburn, there would be no guessing game. He wouldn't play at Auburn again.
If the 2011 Heisman finalist failed a drug test in 2012 for the third time in his college career -- as it has been reported he did at LSU -- the door wouldn't even be ajar for his possible return to the field in 2013.
That door would be closed, locked and boarded up.
Auburn's drug policy is stricter than LSU's.
How is that possible?
The SEC leaves drug policies up to its individual members, from the frequency of testing to the severity of punishment.
Does that make sense?
Not in the least. It's about time the conference's 14 members put their heads together to come up with a uniform drug policy for the entire league.
Mathieu's suspension for the entire 2012 season is the perfect time to re-open a debate that's been discussed behind the scenes from time to time but hasn't been a front-burner issue of late. Right now, the playing field is far from level when it comes to getting players that have failed drug tests back on the field.
The 2011 national defensive player of the year was the most high-profile player in the nation's most high-profile league, but instead of getting ready for next Saturday's opener against North Texas in Baton Rouge, he's dealing with his personal issues at a rehab clinic in Houston.
Since LSU announced his suspension 12 days ago, there's been a great deal of debate about whether the school's drug policy would allow him to come back and play for the Tigers in 2013.
LSU's policy is similar to others in the SEC that were provided to The Birmingham News or were available on athletic department websites. Test positive the first time, and there's treatment but no loss of playing time.
Test positive a second time, and there's a suspension for up to 15 percent of the season. Mathieu was suspended for one game in 2011 against Auburn because, ESPN.com reported, he'd failed a drug test for synthetic marijuana.
Test positive a third time, LSU's policy says, and there's a one-year suspension from competition.
Auburn's policy, which the school provided to The News, is less forgiving. It hits student-athletes with longer suspensions more quickly, depending on the banned substance involved.
Test positive the first time for traditional or synthetic marijuana, and there's counseling but no loss of playing time. Test positive the first time for another banned substance, and you're suspended for 50 percent of your season.
If your first and second positive tests are for either kind of marijuana, the second positive test triggers a suspension for 50 percent of your season. A third positive test in that category, and you lose your privilege to play at Auburn permanently.
You don't get a third strike if either of your first two positive tests are for a banned substance other than marijuana. In that case, strike two and you're out. Permanently.
"On the testing side, I'm 100 percent satisfied with what we're doing," Auburn AD Jay Jacobs told me Tuesday on 97.3 The Zone.
"We don't have a lot that show up (positive) the second time."
Or the first time. Jacobs said that Auburn conducts about 1,300 drug tests a year on its student-athletes. Less than 1 percent of the tests come back positive, he said, and some of those are for prescription drugs pre-approved by the school's medical staff.
Tougher sanctions for failing more than one test would seem to be a stronger deterrent. They would appear to be in the best interest of helping a student-athlete change his behavior after the first failed test.
Drug policies aren't about competition. They're about a mix of compassion and discipline. Wouldn't it be nice to see the SEC's schools pool their data and come up with the best possible program to deal with an issue that every one of them faces?
That way, they could level the playing field while doing everything possible to set their players straight.
By Kevin Scarbinsky, Birmingham News
Published: Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 6:44 AM
Updated: Wednesday, August 22, 2012, 6:45 AM