Georgia offensive tackle Kolton Houston has yet to play a snap for the Bulldogs after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance banned by the NCAA and remains ineligible because traces of the substance have not dropped to an appropriate threshold.
The reason behind why Houston has been unable to play went unanswered publicly by Georgia until Thursday on the first day of preseason practices when head coach Mark Richt detailed what has kept Houston off the field. He did so after Houston’s family granted permission.
“Over time, you assume that this substance would leave your body and you would get to the point where the NCAA says you can go back and play,” Richt said. “We’ve been waiting for that moment and it hasn’t come. It’s been two and a half years and this thing for whatever reason hasn’t gotten out of there.”
Georgia released 19 pages of documents to the media, including five letters related to his appeal.
“To date, Kolton has not yet passed the exit protocol in order to restore his eligibility,” Georgia said in a statement.
Richt said that Houston “has been tested probably more times than anybody in the history of college football and we’re 100 percent certain that he’s not continued to take this thing, but it’s just never gotten far enough out of his system for him to be declared eligible to play.”
Later, he added: “We have not lost hope on that.”
Houston, who worked at first-team right tackle this spring, sustained a shoulder injury while at Buford High School and sometime after surgery was “unknowingly given a substance which was banned by the NCAA,” Georgia said.
Houston tested positive for the performance enhancing substance Norandrolone — an anabolic steroid — in a random NCAA drug test on April 13, 2010 after enrolling at Georgia for the spring semester, according to documents. He was suspended for a year then and lost a year of eligibility.
Norandrolone is notorious for staying in the system long because it bonds to fat, particularly with an injection, said Ron Courson, Georgia’s associate athletic director for sports medicine.
Courson said that Houston is “exceedingly close to the threshold,” of an acceptable level and Georgia argues that it can’t be proven the substance is performance-enhancing.
“Based on the numbers, we thought it would have exited the system by now, but it did plateau” Courson said. “For whatever reason with his body, he’s metabolizing at a slower rate.”
Courson said to become eligible Houston has to hit a specific number on the exit protocol test.
“When he does that, he’s eligible,” he said. “Let’s not quibble about two or three nanograms.”
Houston is being tested once a week. Georgia said its worked closely with the NCAA, the National Center for Drug Free Sport, Kolton and his family to restore his eligibility in a case it called “extremely unique and complex.”
In a letter of appeal to NCAA president Mark Emmert dated July 12, 2012, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity wrote that Houston “has been tested very frequently by the NCAA and UGA, and there is scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates that there has been no re-use over the past 2 1/2 years.”
McGarity called it “very disappointing to witness this scenario play out for 2 1/2 years with Mr. Houston’s eligibility in question. The Houston family has acknowledged the use of the banned substance prior to his enrollment at UGA, and since that time, Mr. Houston has done everything possible to prove there was no re-use whatsoever since his enrollment at UGA in the Spring Semester of 2010.”
Emmert wrote back this week in a letter dated Tuesday that while he understood “the institution’s empathy for Kolton’s situation, I am surprised that the institution would make such a request. That surprise stems in part from the fact that Kolton tested positive in subsequent drug tests after his initial sanction, and the Drug Test Appeals Subcommittee did not impose additional sanctions for those positive tests due to ‘declining value’ argument that supported the conclusion that there was no new use of the banned substance.”
He continued: “The exit test policy, however, which would require Kolton not to have elevated levels of a banned substance in his system prior to competing against other student-athletes who are competing clean, is not something that can be waived or appealed because doing so would undermine the purpose of the drug testing program.”
But Courson said “the level is so low, I would challenge anybody to show me that there’s any performance-enhancing value whatsoever. From that standpoint, we feel like he’s made a mistake, he’s paid his penalty and he’s very deserving of his three years of eligibility.”
Houston can continue to practice with the team like he did last season and remains on scholarship.
Richt called the matter “a very difficult situation for Kolton and his family and for us as coaches to continue to assume that it’s just eventually get out of there, but it just hasn’t.”
In the meantime, Georgia will prepare as if Houston will be unable to play and hope that he can.
Sophomore Watts Dantzler and freshman John Theus will compete at right tackle.
Richt said Houston could pass a drug test “any time.”
“We’ve consulted with a tremendous amount of people from across the country — endocrinologists, sports medicine physicians, drug toxicologists — trying to find out how we can eliminate it from the system,” Courson said.
Georgia did a series of “very aggressive” sports massage and ultrasound level treatments that it said actually caused a “spike” in test data.
The NCAA retested him nine and a half months after he failed the initial test, Courson said, and when he tested positive that drew a lifetime ban. Georgia successfully appealed.
“From the time he’s been here since he’s had that positive test, we’ve got two and a half years of very detailed testing,” Courson said. “We know unequivocally he has not had re-use whatsoever. … From our standpoint, he served the suspension.”