The past 12 months in college football have brought their share of memorable moments. We saw the first national title game between two teams from the same conference, giving the SEC its sixth consecutive national title. We saw stars emerge and prefer to go by names like the Honey Badger and RG3. We saw the winningest FBS coach have his career end in scandal, and his life end with lung cancer just two months later.
Several other schools encountered incidents they'd soon rather forget. That same Honey Badger, Tyranne Mathieu, was one of three LSU players who reportedly tested positive for synthetic marijuana and were suspended for a game on the march to the national title game. Fellow cornerback Tharold Simon and running back Spencer Ware joined Mathieu on the bench.
After the season, Georgia starting cornerback Branden Smith was arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and according to multiple reports, safety Bacarri Rambo tested positive for pot. Rambo ranked second nationally with eight interceptions in 2011, but the school did not confirm or deny reports. Rambo's high school coach said he unknowingly ate brownies baked with marijuana inside.
Rambo likely will face a multigame suspension because he's been previously suspended for a rules violation, and Smith will miss at least the opener after his first run-in with the law.
No school, however, was more affected by drug problems in the offseason than new Big 12 member TCU. Four Horned Frogs were among 17 arrested in a campus drug sting. Reports later surfaced that a recruit reneged on a commitment because of the team's drug use, and coach Gary Patterson administered a drug test to his team on national signing day.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that five players had failed the test, a stark contrast from players in police affidavits who speculated that 60 or 82 players had tested positive for marijuana. TCU removed four players from the team while the legal process plays out, including defensive leader Tanner Brock; safety Devin Johnson, a likely starter; defensive lineman D.J. Yendrey and offensive lineman Tyler Horn.
TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte declined through a spokesman to be interviewed for this story.
Marijuana use in college football is on the rise, but use fluctuates somewhat unpredictably over time, says Frank Uryasz, the president of Drug Free Sport, one of the nation's top drug test providers.
"Every 20-25 years you have these upticks in marijuana use," he said. "Not only in college but in the high school level, too."
There is an uptick now, mimicking one the game saw in the early 1980s. A 2009 study surveyed thousands of anonymous athletes and found that 26.7 percent reported using marijuana at least once in the past 12 months, up from 21.7 percent in 2005.
Football isn't the worst offender, however. Nearly 49 percent of male lacrosse players admitted to using marijuana over the past 12 months. Soccer players also reported a higher rate of usage than football.
What can schools do to prevent the next year from being filled with more of the same headaches for coaches?
The first step is using an outside company to monitor, and ideally prevent, players' drug usage.
Most schools see the benefit of drug testing, and denial is minimal. Coaches know it's a problem.
"The devil's in the details," Uryasz said. "Say you test, but who is being tested? How often? How are positive results being handled? How are sanctions being applied? What does the appeal process look like? Who's involved? Who's not?"
Marijuana use is increasing again in the college and high school population. It's unfortunate, but I think we're going to have these types of incidents until we can bring these numbers down.
”-- Frank Uryasz, president of Drug Free Sport
Those are difficult questions even for coaches who do use outside services.
Outsourcing drug testing not only helps with transparency -- it leaves the difficult details of the actual testing out of the hands of those busy with other problems within athletic departments.
"It's very difficult to run those in-house," Uryasz said. "Often times, testing gets set aside. People get busy. It's complicated. It's a bit of a hassle. Unless there's somebody responsible for making sure the testing occurs and that the correct athletes are being selected, a random nature and a reasonable suspicion nature to testing, I think it helps to have an outside group."
Statistics suggest that drug use is cyclical, but the only way to end the cycle's recent rise is to do the same thing programs did decades ago: crack down.
Cases like TCU, LSU and Georgia will only grow in the next year if schools don't make concerted efforts to make punishments consistent and stern.
"I hope it's the exception when it comes to distribution and those types of things," Uryasz said of TCU. "But marijuana use is increasing again in the college and high school population. It's unfortunate, but I think we're going to have these types of incidents until we can bring these numbers down."