Clemson football and legal department people were happy for all three of the Tigers defensive linemen selected in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night but probably happiest for Dexter Lawrence, who went to the New York Giants with the 17th overall pick.
Lawrence, a 6-4, 340-pound junior defensive tackle, was one of three Clemson players who tested positive for ostarine, a banned performance-enhancing drug, prior to the Cotton Bowl in December. All three were banned from the Tigers’ Cotton Bowl and national championship game victories.
Athletic director Dan Radakovich said Friday he expects an NCAA appeal result in the next few days, a ruling originally due in February before Clemson received an extension. The timing might not be coincidental: Two Clemson senior administration officials who requested anonymity told The Post and Courier that the school feared a lawsuit from Lawrence, long projected as a first-round pick, if he fell too far in the draft and if the tumble could be tied to the failed PED test.
“We think we’re in the clear now,” one of the officials said Saturday.
Lawrence and reserves Braden Galloway and Zach Giella were among fewer than 20 Clemson players the NCAA picked at random as part of a routine testing procedure before the College Football Playoff games.
There were 119 Clemson players on the roster.
Lawrence has said he has no idea how the PED entered his system. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told The Post and Courier the ostarine could have been given to the players by the school itself, by mistake.
Lawrence, a bright and jovial native of Wake Forest, N.C., told The Post and Courier in February that he was ready to answer PED questions at the NFL Scouting Combine or on visits to NFL teams.
“I do want to know how it got in my system and where it came from,” Lawrence said. “But right now, they are still doing their research to see where exactly it came from, and they don’t know where right now.”
The NCAA’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports will hear the Clemson appeal via telephone. The Clemson side will be led by a players’ attorney with available help from Clemson counsel. The process is designed as a “blind” appeal in which NCAA officials theoretically are not aware of the school’s identity.
The Clemson case, however, is rare: NCAA records obtained by The Post and Courier show that approximately 1,110 athletes were drug-tested each year for championship events over the last three years with an average of fewer than 10 per year testing positive for PEDs on the NCAA’s banned list.
Though Lawrence officially is an NFL first-round draft pick — along with Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins — the case is far from moot. Galloway, a rising sophomore tight end, and Giella, a senior offensive lineman, remain on the Clemson team but are ineligible for the 2019 season pending the outcome of the appeal.
A Clemson in-house investigation began before the Cotton Bowl, but the school has provided almost no transparency on the failed PED test issue.
Radakovich briefly discussed the appeal Friday during a Board of Trustees meeting at which Swinney received a college football-record $93 million contract over 10 years and Radakovich got a new deal that reaches $1.4 million per year by 2024.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.