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Without new labor deal, MLBPA can scrap drug policy

NEW YORK -- Major league players can scrap the sport's toughened drug rules if they don't have a new labor contract by August, a provision drawing attention from congressmen who pushed for the strengthened policy.

If players and owners don't agree to a new labor contract by
Aug. 1, the union has until Aug. 15 to unilaterally end the new
drug policy as of Dec. 19, when the current collective bargaining
agreement expires.

If players terminate the new policy and the sides play 2007 without a labor contract, the 2005 drug rules would be in effect.

After being contacted Tuesday about that provision by The Associated Press, House Government Reform Committee chairman Tom Davis sent a letter to baseball commissioner Bud Selig and union head Donald Fehr saying it "raises congressional concern."

Davis asked Major League Baseball and the union "to reassure the Committee, in writing" that the clause "does not leave open
the possibility, under any circumstances, that the 2007 season will
be played subject to the 2005 drug testing policy."

Davis' committee held a steroids hearing in March 2005, when the witnesses included Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco.
Davis was one of a handful of representatives and senators who
sponsored bills last year proposing to mandate stronger steroid
testing and penalties for U.S. pro sports.

Spurred by that threat of legislation, baseball players and owners agreed in November to tougher penalties for steroid use starting this season, including 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second, and a lifetime ban for a third, plus testing for amphetamines. The previous steroid penalties were a 10-day suspension for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 60 days for a third. There was no testing or punishment for amphetamine use.

"Obviously, the chairman is looking for reassurances that this
clause will not result in baseball returning to the bad old days of
a weak drug testing policy," Davis spokesman Robert White wrote in
an e-mail to the AP.

"Baseball has come too far to lose ground now," White added.

Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the ranking Democrat on Government Reform, figures the players wouldn't exercise their right to revert back to the old steroids rules.

"Congress will be closely monitoring any changes to baseball's
steroid policy and it is inconceivable to me that baseball or the
union would weaken the policy they adopted last year," Waxman said
in a statement e-mailed to the AP.

Fehr said the reason for the provision was to allow players to
put all topics, including drug-testing, on the bargaining table in
the event a labor deal isn't agreed to by August. The sides have
had preliminary discussions prior to bargaining.

"Obviously, we carved out one issue from the Basic Agreement,
and dealt with it early in the context of a renegotiation," said
Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president for labor
relations. "I think the provision was an effort to restore the
balance that would have naturally existed if we had addressed all
the issues at the same time."

Baseball played most of the 2002 season without a labor contract before reaching an agreement on Aug. 30, hours before players were
set to strike.

Sen. Jim Bunning, a Hall of Famer pitcher, sponsored a bill on steroid testing and said legislation remains an option.

"Sen. Bunning has no reason to believe anybody wants to go back
on this deal. ... But if there is any sort of backsliding, his bill
remains on the calendar and could be brought back at any time,"
spokesman Mike Reynard said.