ATHENS -- Three years ago, a high school football player named Kolton Houston was nursing a shoulder injury. At some point, Houston sought help from someone who later would be labeled an unscrupulous physician.
All this time later, Houston is still paying the price for that decision. And while he never has played a down for the Georgia football team, and its in doubt whether he ever will, his case has become a cause célèbre.
In recent days, it led to a spirited exchange between the president of the NCAA and Georgias athletics director. And it has caused Georgia head athletics trainer to call into question the NCAAs testing procedures.
Houston, a sophomore offensive lineman from Buford, has been ruled ineligible for a third straight year, Georgia announced Thursday. Houston has been felled by the NCAA for continuous positive tests for Norandrolone, an anabolic steroid.
At one time, Georgia was optimistic that Houstons appeal would be granted. He was to begin preseason as the first-string right tackle. Instead, as his teammates began practice Thursday, Houston is out of the plans.
Georgia has protested Houstons ineligibility. It grants that Houston, by virtue of the initial positive test in 2010, warranted an initial suspension. But it argues that he has served his time and tests show he has not taken anything illegal since then.
The bottom line is hes been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football, head coach Mark Richt said. Were 100 percent certain that hes not taken anything or continued to take this thing.
The problem is the steroid is not out of Houstons system.
Georgia, at the request of Houstons family, bypassed HIPPA regulations and released his test results from the past three years. They show that Houstons hormone levels have plateaued -- which Georgia says shows that he has not taken anything illegal.
Georgia head athletics trainer Ron Courson said that some drugs are water-soluble and disappear from the system within days. But others are fat-soluble ,and in Coursons words, they bond with your fat. Norandrolone, an anabolic steroid, is notoriously long for staying in your system, according to the trainer.
Theres been documented published research that shows it can stay in your system for 18, 24 months or even longer, Courson said. We can show without a doubt that for the past two years theres been no re-use whatsoever. Lets not quibble about two or three nanograms. You know, theres no performance-enhancing aspect. Hes paid his due, and lets let him return.
But the NCAA disagrees.
In a letter dated Tuesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert told Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity that he was surprised Georgia would request Houstons eligibility be reinstated, considering he continues to test positive.
Emmert went on to write that he understood Georgias desire to help Houston because it felt Houston has done the right thing for the past two-and-a-half years. Emmert put right in quotation marks.
However, that is the expectation for all of our student-athletes, Emmert wrote. 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.
But Georgia has put on a fullcourt press on behalf of Houston.
Courson wrote a lengthy letter to McGarity on July 9 to state his serious concerns in the management of the Houston case. Courson said that there were inherent flaws in the NCAA drug testing program, which have been raised many times before by sports medicine professionals but never addressed adequately by the NCAA.
On July 12, McGarity wrote Emmert to say that there is scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates that there has been no re-use over the past two-and-a-half years. ... It is disappointing to witness this scenario play out for two-and-a-half years with Mr. Houstons eligibility in question. He went on to call the case unique, as the scientific documentation illustrates.
Emmert was unimpressed. So Georgia and Houston have to hope that eventually a negative test result come in.
Courson said they are testing Houston about once per week and are staying in touch with the NCAA. Georgia is continuing to test Houston in the hopes that his hormone levels recede to an acceptable point. In that case, it will call the NCAA to have it bring in a crew to test Houston. Conceivably, that could lead to Houston becoming immediately eligible.
Weve not given up hope, Richt said.