Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell will oversee Penn State’s compliance with the sweeping sanctions the NCAA issued in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
The NCAA announced the five-year appointment Wednesday, saying it began immediately.
Mitchell will have “broad access” to Penn State, including its records and personnel to make sure the university is complying with penalties and adhering to NCAA rules, according to the announcement.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson agreed to NCAA sanctions including a $60 million penalty, being banned from bowl games for four years and slashing the number of football scholarships the school can offer.
If the NCAA finds that Penn State has breached the Athletics Integrity Agreement, it can impose additional penalties.
Mitchell said he is mindful that “this tragedy has deeply affected many lives, starting, of course, with the victims and their families.”
“I will do my best to fulfill my independent oversight responsibilities to help ensure that Penn State University moves promptly and decisively to achieve the very high level of trust and integrity needed to fulfill its important mission to those it serves,” Mitchell said in a statement.
Mitchell, 78, is currently chairman emeritus at global law firm DLA Piper. A Democratic U.S. senator from Maine for 15 years, he served as majority leader from 1989 to 1995.
In 2000 and 2001, he was chairman of a fact-finding committee on violence in the Middle East that issued recommendations known as the Mitchell Report. He also led an investigation into performance-enhancing drugs in major league baseball.
A member of the basketball team at Bowdoin College where he was an undergraduate, Mitchell received the NCAA’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, in 2010.
Penn State spokesman David La Torre said the university looks forward to working with Mitchell.
“His extensive experience on the boards of major companies, such as Xerox, FedEx, Staples and Disney, and deep understanding of the sports industry, make him uniquely qualified for this position,” La Torre said. “University representatives hope to meet with Senator Mitchell soon to discuss how we will work together.”
The NCAA based its ruling on the Louis Freeh report, the investigation university trustees commissioned the former FBI director to conduct. Freeh found that four top school officials had intentionally covered up abuse by Sandusky and that the university has a “culture of reverence” for football.
Mitchell will issue quarterly progress reports for the NCAA, the Big Ten and Penn State trustees, according to the announcement. He can receive assistance from his law firm and other agencies, as needed.
An NCAA spokesman said Penn State will pay Mitchell. The university did not provide information about how much Mitchell will be paid or where the money will come from.
Along with the fines and bowl game bans, the sanctions Penn State agreed to include:
implementing the Freeh report recommendations, including integrating athletics into the university;
creating a compliance council of faculty and administrators to review the athletic department’s compliance
creating a hotline that can accept anonymous tips about potential violations of athletics policies and ethics;
having a coach or manager on each NCAA team oversee team compliance with the standards;
and yearly training for athletes and employees on standards and reporting violations.
Anne Danahy can be reached at 231-4648. Follow her on Twitter @AnneDanahy