Drug testing is a very important and complicated issue.
The N.F.L.’s owners and players have figured out how to divide up their money, and have spent a busy week reconstituting rosters and renewing rivalries.
But there is still unfinished business in their labor standoff, and the most important issue remaining could be the question of drug testing.
The N.F.L., whose new collective bargaining agreement is expected to be completed and ratified by Thursday, could begin blood testing for human growth hormone as soon as September, according to a person briefed on the negotiations who was not authorized to speak publicly, making it the first major North American sports league to conduct such testing on its top players with the union’s consent.
Players had long resisted blood testing under the former union president Gene Upshaw, and negotiators are still determining ways to make the program acceptable to current players. Details to be worked out include how many players will be tested for performance-enhancing drugs and how they would be randomly selected when drug testing resumes. There was no drug testing of any kind conducted during the lockout.
But Commissioner Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, the players union executive director, were said by people briefed on negotiations to have long seen the need for growth hormone testing and to want to cast the N.F.L. as a leader in combating drugs in major sports. They have pointed to the joint actions of Upshaw and the former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who moved to start the steroid testing program in the late 1980s.
“I think both sides have a commitment to being leaders in this area and to having the best possible program and they recognize that having testing for growth hormone is part of having the best program,” Jeff Pash, the N.F.L.’s general counsel, said Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, though, the union was adamant that a deal on drug testing had yet to be reached, and its officials would not express an opinion on how confident they were that testing for H.G.H would be part of any final agreement.
“The players have not agreed to any comprehensive drug testing proposal,” the union spokesman George Atallah said.
Among the things being discussed as part of a new drug testing program is a novel process that will allow players to appeal the findings of tests to a third party who is mutually agreed upon by the union and the league. That would eliminate one of the players’ biggest complaints about the old process: that their appeals were heard and decided by the commissioner’s office.
It is also possible that the union could be more involved in administering the drug program, and it could perhaps be involved in operating the hot line that players can call to find out if a supplement is allowed under the program. That, too, could ease concerns by players that stem from the StarCaps case that began in 2008, in which players accused the league of failing to warn them about the presence of a diuretic in a supplement, even though the league had known StarCaps contained the banned substance.
Major League Baseball moved last year to begin growth hormone testing on minor league players, the majority of whom are not members of the players’ union, allowing Commissioner Bud Selig to make the decision without the baseball union’s consent. Expanding that testing to the major leagues is now the subject of negotiations between Major League Baseball and its players union.
The other issues being addressed in the final days of negotiations include the personal-conduct policy, which is likely to remain solely in the hands of the commissioner’s office despite complaints among players that Goodell has sometimes acted rashly and unevenly in administering punishment for off-the-field behavior. But Goodell is said to believe strongly in having the final say on personal conduct.
There are not expected to be any stumbling blocks in the way of having the collective bargaining agreement completed by Thursday, with work already said to be about 80 percent complete on the final issues.
Player representatives would then probably vote on a conference call as soon as the agreement is done, but no later than Thursday. The league year would begin after the deal is ratified.
But if it is not ratified until Thursday night, players who have signed new contracts and are unable to start practicing until the league year begins would not be allowed on the field until Friday.