After eventful 2015, NSAC addressing necessary changes

Anderson Silva was suspended for one year by the Nevada State Athletic Commission in 2015 because of multiple failed drug tests. Josh Hedges/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS -- The Nevada State Athletic Commission was far too interesting in 2015.

Typically, public regulatory meetings are not considered must-watch events -- but plenty of fight fans found the NSAC's dealings last year worth tracking.

Former UFC champion Jon Jones has hinted at potential legal action against the NSAC after it mistakenly tested him for substances of abuse during an out-of-competition time period. Anderson Silva was allowed to fight in Nevada on Jan. 31 last year, even though it was later revealed he failed a drug test on Jan. 19.

Nick Diaz was suspended five years for a marijuana-related offense. The punishment drew outrage from the public, including a White House petition to lift the ban that received more than 100,000 signatures. The suspension was ultimately reduced to 18 months during a settlement hearing on Monday.

As 2016 gets underway, recently appointed NSAC chairman Anthony Marnell is optimistic his commission will be far less interesting this year. And that's a good thing.

"The public might have lost some confidence in us, but I think that's going to go up and down," Marnell told ESPN.com. "I think we made some good decisions during that time frame and and we made some poor ones. What's important now is where we are going.

"I'm promising the fight community that going forward, the Nevada commission is going to deal with fighters in a very consistent, public, well-organized way."

It might sound like an empty promise if it were not for looming, sweeping changes to NAC 467, the rules and regulations to which the NSAC adheres.

Simply put, those rules and regulations as currently written are flawed, and a growing number of athletes have become aware of it.

A question as simple as which athletes the NSAC has jurisdiction over -- all of them at any time or licensed ones only? -- is difficult to answer because of the vague wording of NAC 467.

The good news is major changes are close to being implemented, including sentencing guidelines for doping violations. A lack of defined guidelines has created a perception (and somewhat of a reality) that the NSAC is free to punish individual athletes on a case-by-case basis with no parameters.

A growing sentiment about the NSAC in 2015 was that commission members only responded to athletes who were willing to grovel at their disciplinary hearings. Admit guilt, show remorse and praise the commission? You get off easy. Challenge the commission's authority? You get the book thrown at you.

Marnell adamantly said that's far from the truth, but reiterated the effect that sentencing guidelines would have on the entire process. Once those adoptions go into place, fighters (and the public) will know exactly what to expect in terms of punishment.

So, a five-year ban seemingly out of left field during a contentious hearing -- that shouldn't happen anymore.

"I'm happy to respond to that. I think it's a total crock of s---," Marnell said. "I'll tell you that straight up. What the commission gets upset about is when we feel like we're being lied to. If public perception is the NSAC tends to go towards the lower end of the sentencing guidelines for people who tell the truth -- they are correct. But groveling is not what we're looking for.

"And I'm adamant about that because it's a big waste of all of our time when we are lied to. We ask direct questions and we expect direct answers."

Of course, sentencing guidelines themselves can be controversial, and marijuana is a good example. In the state of California, a first-time marijuana offense nets an athlete a 30-day suspension. United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) sanctions are typically three months.

In previous public hearings, Nevada has raised eyebrows by advocating a suspension of 18 months for a first-time marijuana offense.

Marnell couldn't speak for his fellow commissioners, but said that number (along with others) is subject to change before the adoptions to NAC 467 are implemented.

"I think when it gets to a hearing on sentencing guidelines, you're going to see the commission fall more in line with the [World Anti-Doping Agency] Code," Marnell said. "It's exactly the reason 467 needs to be here. You and others recognize it and you're calling me on it and I'm cool with that because it has been all over the map.

"I think, to be very honest, marijuana got pulled into the mix when all the anabolic penalties were being discussed and it was like, 'We're just done, with all of it.' All of the discussed sanctions were severe and a couple things got dragged into that, I will acknowledge, not rightfully so."

If 2015 illustrated a need for change in the NSAC, 2016 appears to be the year that change takes place. The commission has transitioned to a self-funded system which, according to Marnell, should result in a budget that is approximately three times the amount it was last year.

Once the changes to NAC 467 are approved, Marnell anticipates this happening in the spring. When the rules and regulations are defined, Marnell wants to get the NSAC back to what it has historically done: set an example as the most influential and powerful athletic commission in the world.

"The weight-cutting issue is a huge issue," Marnell said. "It's a health and safety issue. We have a brain study going on. We'll be looking at all of those issues after 467 is in place."