NCAA penalty doesn’t fit Fulton’s crime

To set the scene, let’s drop in on an early scene from the hilarious military spoof movie, “Stripes,” where the motley band of new recruits is getting to know each other and their tough but lovable drill sergeant in the barracks before turning in.

They’re discussing why they decided to join the Army.

Cruiser: “Well, I thought I would enlist before I got drafted.”

(Awkward silence).

Sgt. Hulka: “Son, there ain’t no draft no more.”

Oops.

Evidently, Cruiser hadn’t done his homework.

That’s kind of the fix LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton is in right now. It’s how you get suspended by the NCAA for two seasons for a drug test you actually passed.

On Thursday the NCAA denied his appeal to shorten the sentence to the one-year suspension he’s already served.

OK, let’s get out of the way up front. Fulton isn’t an innocent babe here. What he did was wrong.

But what the NCAA has done in response is far worse.

Fulton was the top-rated high school cornerback in the nation when he came out of Rummel High School — not that that should matter. He had an injury-shortened freshman season with the Tigers in 2016.

So far that’s been the highlight of his college life. He’s been living a nightmare ever since.

It all started in February following that season when he was picked for a random NCAA drug test.

He was 18 years old and he panicked. He knew he’d smoked marijuana two days earlier.

His college career flashed before his eyes. Then he got some bad advice from older teammates — sneak in a vial of somebody else’s urine and slip it in the receptacle.

It wasn’t exactly the crime of the century — he got caught in the act, in fact, and then, with the test administrator still watching, provided his own personal sample.

The kicker?

Son, they ain’t testing for no marijuana.

That test was strictly looking for performance enhancing drugs.

With his own sample, he passed that test clean as a whistle.

Minus the bungled switcheroo job, he’d have been better off failing it.

The penalty for testing positive for PEDs is a one-year suspension. The penalty for tampering with the test is a two-year penalty.

OK.

And let’s get this out of the way.

Yeah, he panicked because he’d done something he shouldn’t have. This is not to condone any drug use, even something as common on campus as marijuana.

But it happens.

If you get a kid through college and the worst thing he does in four years is a couple of tokes, you’d probably consider yourself lucky.

And, by all accounts, save for that one major misstep, Fulton has been a model student-athlete on both sides of the hyphen.

Certainly when the season begins in three weeks there will be far greater threats to society running around the greenswards proudly sporting the colors of their various repositories of higher learning.

Fulton, who has continued to practice with the Tigers all along, will be serving the second year of his football exile, watching what no doubt what could have been a promising NFL career become more and more of a long shot.

Yes, he was wrong. There are consequences, and for sure he will get out of college having learned you are responsible for your actions.

His intent, misguided or not, warranted the one-year suspension.

But really? Two years?

Fulton’s attorney, Alabama-based Don Jackson, called it “the most harsh and ridiculous punishment I’ve ever seen imposed against a student-athlete.”

If he was in any of the major pro leagues, the suspension would have been less than a full season.

But the NCAA has these rules, and by golly they’re going to enforce them.

You can even understand, in theory, making the penalty worse for trying to skirt the tests than for failing them.

It would have been nice if somebody at LSU had told Fulton about that — the lack of education about the process was one of the points of his appeal — and the school has since put more emphasis on making sure the players understand all aspects of it (rather than them relying on sketchy urban legends from teammates).

Still, you have to wonder how seriously the NCAA considered his appeal. They handled it with a conference call, a clogged one at that, between 22 members of a dreaded committee.

A kid’s future rests in the hands of the very organization charged with protecting their well being, and the NCAA thinks it’s only worth a conference call?

Nobody was claiming Fulton should get off scot-free. But this was a classic case of taking a jackhammer to a gnat.

Yes, that was the rule in place, but that’s what the appeals process should be about.

The appeal was based mostly on legal jargon, which is how things are handled.

But no matter the intentions of the tampering penalty, shouldn’t it be an extenuating circumstance that he passed the test?

His good behavior since the incident should have also come into play.

But, of course, this is the NCAA you’re dealing with.

Logic usually takes a holiday.

“Obviously we thought it was going to go the other way,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said. “Whole team is disappointed. Whole staff is disappointed.

“When he gets his chance he will be one heck of a player for LSU.”

Maybe. But if Fulton is still around next year when that chance finally comes, he’s a lot more patient than your average college kid.


Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at shobbs@americanpress.com

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