Clemson athletic department staffers started asking each other tough questions immediately after three football players were suspended just prior to the Dec. 29 Cotton Bowl. The school had until an extended NCAA appeal was finally denied in late May to look into how Dexter Lawrence, Braden Galloway and Zach Giella ingested the performance-enhancing drug ostarine.
But Clemson won’t share its findings with the public.
If the school knows how the players came into contact with an illegal PED, if the source was inside or outside the athletic department — or if the problem was more widespread — it is not saying.
And probably will never say.
Clemson cites a privacy law.
“That (NCAA) appeal was led by the student-athletes’ representative. Any investigation into the source of ostarine contamination is a part of that appeal and is, therefore, a student record subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” a Clemson spokesperson told The Post and Courier this week.
Ostarine, a substance banned by the FDA for human use, is a PED classified as a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM).
Galloway, a rising sophomore tight end, and Giella, a senior offensive lineman, missed the Cotton Bowl and national championship game during Clemson’s undefeated season and are ineligible for the 2019 season. Lawrence also missed the two playoff games but left Clemson as a junior and became a New York Giants’ first-round draft pick.
They were three of fewer than 20 Clemson players picked for a random drug test, per NCAA routine, before a championship event. There were 125 players on the football roster.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which applies to the privacy of student education records, would apply to information specifically about Lawrence, Galloway and Giella. It would not prevent Clemson from releasing a general look at such things as the results of in-house PED tests during the playoffs or opinions from outside experts, if either of those situations applied in this unusual case.
An NCAA official told The Post and Courier that approximately 1,100 athletes per year are screened for drugs at championship events, and on average fewer than 10 per year test positive for the drug category ostarine falls under. Those numbers do not include the 2018-19 season numbers, which would include the Clemson players.
"It is true that FERPA protects the education records of students," South Carolina Press Association attorney Taylor M. Smith IV said. "But it is also true that the use of any exemption in the S.C. Freedom of Information Act is not mandatory. In this case, it seems the players involved (and perhaps other players not mentioned) would provide consent to the school to release those records, protected under FERPA, so the public can be made aware of how these tests were failed."
The Post and Courier sought and received thorough cooperation from Clemson during investigative reporting in past years involving data on the use of painkillers within the football program and football concussions.
In the ostarine case, Clemson said in its official statement after the May appeal denial that its student-athletes have taken 329 tests for PEDs since 2014 and all results have been negative “except for the trace amounts found during the December 2018 tests.”
But Clemson has refused to provide access to those test results and has not defined “trace amounts.”
Head coach Dabo Swinney told The Post and Courier in February the players might have been given ostarine in some form accidentally by Clemson.
“Oh yeah, I mean, there’s a chance that it could come from anything,” the two-time national championship winner said. “They’re going to test everything and look at everything. And that’s the problem. As you really look at this stuff, it could be a contaminant that came from anything, that was something that was cleared and not a problem, and all of a sudden, it becomes there was something.”
Otherwise, investigation details have been limited to a statement from Robert Ariail, a veteran Greenville attorney and former county solicitor who represented Galloway and Giella in the NCAA appeal.
Ariail, while stating that Galloway and Giella had no knowledge of how the PED got into their systems and blasting the NCAA, said “as part of the appeal process, an independent lab tested 27 supplements and products, and none came back as contaminated.”
Most major college athletic programs make supplements available, often strongly suggesting various dosages as part of strength, stamina or weight adjustment plans. All supplements must be approved by a school official well versed in NCAA rules before given to athletes.
Clemson in April, in response to a Post and Courier records request, provided a list of over 100 supplements given to Clemson athletes from 2007 to February of 2019. The list ranged from Cliff Bars and Power Bars to Rice Krispie treats and protein drinks.
The University of South Carolina provided a similar list.
The Post and Courier also asked for ostarine-related email, text and other correspondence from December 1 to mid-February 10 involving Swinney, athletic director Dan Radakovich, president Jim Clements and members of the sports medicine, training and nutrition staffs.
Clemson in late May provided only 33 mostly heavily redacted documents that shed little light on the volume or diligence of its in-house investigation.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff