Photo: Thearon W. Henderson (Getty Images)

It’s not clear from what, or from where, three Clemson players got the performance-enhancing drugs they tested positive for prior to the Cotton Bowl on Dec. 29, but Dabo Swinney appears to already have excuses at the ready in case the culprit came from inside the field house.

Per The Post and Courier:

Swinney told The Post and Courier that the process is out of his hands and that the university’s legal team is still looking into all possibilities, which includes the chance that Clemson gave the players something the athletic department thought was cleared by the NCAA.

“Oh yeah, I mean, there’s a chance that it could come from anything,” Swinney said when asked if it’s possible the players ingested ostarine in a Clemson-issued supplement or were exposed to it in some other way at the school. “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.”

For any other person, using this kind of wording would be pretty unwise. Any time you follow up a description of the thorough testing process an investigative body does with “And that’s the problem,” it’s hard to come out not looking at least a little bit guilty. But this isn’t a new line of thinking from Swinney. Back when the suspensions of defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella were upheld in late December, he criticized the NCAA for not using “common sense” in these matters and for being overly-committed to the positive/negative binary in drug testing.

Swinney does have a slight point there. If your investigation is only focused on “yes or no” while ignoring the “how and why,” you aren’t able to come to a legitimate conclusion with your findings. As a result, instead of saying “this athlete tested positive for this banned substance, but they could have ingested it unbeknownst to them,” the conclusion becomes “a banned substance was found therefore that athlete is guilty.” 

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Unfortunately for the coach, he’ll probably need more than that explanation going forward. The Post And Courier also reports that Clemson’s lawyers will argue that the found PEDs came from faulty manufacturing in an NCAA-approved supplement. But the program could be facing more scrutiny if that argument ends up working as it’s highly likely that players beyond the three suspended for the College Football Playoff were also given a contaminated supplement. Suddenly, the three-player suspension doesn’t seem so bad.