Houston's ineligibility frustrates UGA

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia finally shed some light on Kolton Houston's NCAA eligibility issues at Thursday's season-opening news conference. Unfortunately for the redshirt sophomore offensive lineman, his case remains unresolved.

As a result, Georgia opened preseason practice without knowing when one of its top offensive linemen -- who completed spring practice as the starting right tackle -- will be available to play.

"It's been tough because obviously it's something that he didn't want and it's not really something that he can control, either," offensive guard Chris Burnette said of Houston, who continues to test positive for steroid use more than two years after unknowingly being administered the drug in the wake of shoulder surgery in 2009, according to UGA medical staffers.

Georgia's staff has tested Houston repeatedly since he initially tested positive in April 2010 for the anabolic steroid Norandrolone and those tests show that he has not used a performance-enhancing substance since, but enough trace elements of the drug remain in his system that he continues to test positive.

"It's just tough having to see that and seeing how much talent he has and how much ability he has and him having to just sit on the sideline and wait; it's tough," Burnette said. "Hopefully, all of this can get resolved maybe before the season starts, because I would be ecstatic to see him out there finally."

UGA made a rare public showing of its frustration with the NCAA's handling of Houston's case Thursday after Houston and his family allowed the school to share his medical details.

UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson met with reporters, voicing displeasure with the NCAA's refusal to allow Houston an in-person meeting with the organization's officials despite the highly unusual circumstances of his case and arguing that the remaining amount of the drug in his system would provide no performance-enhancing benefit.

"My hope is to restore his eligibility as soon as we can. ... We feel like we're so close," Courson said. "He's served his penalty. Let's not quibble about two or three anagrams. There's no performance-enhancing aspect. He's paid his due."

The NCAA does not see it that way, however, and this week denied Georgia's appeal to relax the minimum threshold drug rules that prohibit Houston from returning to active competition.

NCAA president Mark Emmert informed UGA athletic director Greg McGarity in a letter Tuesday that he was surprised Georgia would make such a request because doing so "would undermine the purpose of the drug testing program."

"The fact remains that Kolton currently has the presence of a banned substance in his system and he will not be able to participate in NCAA competition until that presence drops to an appropriate threshold," Emmert wrote.

Houston, from Buford, Ga., was an early enrollee at Georgia in January 2010. He failed an NCAA drug test April 13, 2010, triggering an automatic one-year suspension. He failed a second NCAA drug test Feb. 2, 2011, and the organization initially handed him a lifetime ban from NCAA participation.

However, Georgia successfully won an appeal by proving with results of its own testing that the drug had never fully left Houston's system and that "the second positive drug test demonstrated residual from the initial drug use rather than re-use," Courson wrote in a July 9 letter to McGarity. "Fortunately for our student-athlete, we have our own institutional drug testing to protect him from an unfair and unsupported accusation."

Not only did that exhaustive testing process help Georgia win its appeal, the school also touted its results as evidence that Houston has not taken any performance-enhancing drugs in the meantime.

"The bottom line is he's been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football and we're 100 percent certain that he's not continued to take this thing," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "But it's just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play."

The problem in this case, Courson said, is that Norandrolone bonds with a recipient's fatty tissue and it has yet to work its way out of Houston's body to a degree that would satisfy NCAA testing regulations.

"Some drugs are what we call water-soluble and exit out of your system in just a matter of days, and some drugs are fat-soluble and bond with your fat," Courson said. "Norandrolone is an anabolic steroid and it's notoriously known for staying in your system. There's been documented, published research stories that show it can stay in your system 18 to 24 months or even longer."

So it appears that Georgia will continue with its pattern of weekly testing on Houston until the results show that Courson can invite NCAA officials back to retest him. Until then, a player who completed spring practice as a starting offensive lineman must continue a process that has frustrated everyone involved.

Said Richt of waiting out Houston's retesting and what it means as fall camp starts: "We have to prepare as if he won't be able to play, and hope that he can."