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Nevada Athletic Commission considers forming committee to examine changes to drug testing code

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) on Monday resolved to open dialogue towards forming a committee to examine aspects of its drug testing program in light of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones' failed drug test for cocaine metabolites.

Jones, MMA's top pound-for-pound fighter who popped positive in a Dec. 4 random drug test ahead of his UFC 182 mega-fight against Daniel Cormier, entered himself into a drug treatment facility this past Monday, and was effectively absolved from any punishment from the commission (up to this point) due to the out-of-competition nature of his failed test, along with the fact that cocaine is not listed as a banned out-of-competition substance under World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) guidelines, which the NAC follows.

NAC chairman Francisco Aguilar ultimately requested the formation of a committee to assess whether the commission should diverge from WADA protocol under unusual circumstances like Jones', as well as consider a shift in its definitions of in-competition to out-of-competition.

Currently, "in-competition" is considered to be the 12-hour period prior to and immediately following a fight.

"We want to understand where we are with the WADA code, what our jurisdictional abilities are," Aguilar said. "Discuss where we want to deviate from that code if we want to deviate from it, and also look at it. Do we need to update our policies? Do we need to update our thinking as commissioners when it comes to drug testing? And then finally, the penalty phase: is what we're doing in our process accomplishing what we're intending to accomplish for unarmed combat?

"So with that, I think we would like to move forward with a committee. We'll develop the contents of that committee over the next time, and hopefully by the next meeting we can come forward with a plan, a time frame, and a composition of that group."

Aguilar began the discussion by alluding to Jones' case and his desire to, in future cases like it, address matters with a formal discipline hearing.

Commissioner Pat Lundvall noted that the NAC ordered a complete evaluation of WADA code in 2007, and ultimately elected to adopt the prohibited substance list, but not the entire program. Lundvall initially voiced concern over whether the commission had the legal jurisdiction to make the changes suggested by Aguilar regarding in-competition/out-of-competition timelines, but eventually was the first to suggest the formation of the exploratory committee -- a suggestion which Aguilar quickly seconded.

"The issue is, we have a positive test for a substance that's not necessarily banned out-of-competition," Aguilar said. "However if the substance was consumed during competition, we would have the right, as a commission, to address it in a disciplinary action process. Given that this substance was consumed out-of-competition, it's not listed as a banned substance on the WADA list.

"Given that we didn't have any authority to address it, from what I understand based on research of the Attorney General, I would've liked to have that conversation as a full commission as to what direction we can go and how we can move forward with a disciplinary action. And with that in mind, I thought, do we need to discuss the definition of in-competition versus out-of-competition?

"Is the in-competition definition by WADA appropriate for us, and do we want to move forward with that definition? Or do we want to deviate from it at some point and kinda develop our own definition?"

Lundvall continued to stress her concern over the jurisdictional capabilities of the commission the enact significant out-of-competition change, but ultimately agreed that the NAC may benefit by re-familiarizing itself with current drug testing practices, as well as new nuances that may have arisen over the last half-decade.

"We held a hearing, invited a number of different members from the performance enhancing drug evaluation community, an extensive hearing, back in 2010," said Lundvall. "It's now been five years. Maybe it's time for us to hold another one of those hearings so that we can get further educated on new practices, new techniques, new issues that are arising, and figure out what additional rules and regulations that we may also want to consider in addition to this one."

"I think it's something that we should pursue aggressively with detail and vigor," agreed commissioner Anthony Marnell. "Talk to the community and get as much information as we can, because I think some of these substances that can enhance performance can also put fighters at risk, and that's always been my biggest concern."

NAC officials did not set a definitive timeline for the formation of the committee. The results of Jones' post-fight drug test have not yet been made public.