NCAA monitor Mitchell: Penn State’s student-athletes not jeopardized by medical staff shakeup

mdawson@centredaily.comDecember 6, 2013 

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NCAA monitor George Mitchell speaks at a January Penn State board of trustees meeting. Mitchell pointed to Penn State’s implementation of most of the 119 recommendations laid out in former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report last summer in his positive report on the university’s progress after the NCAA sanctions.

NABIL K. MARK — CDT file photo Buy Photo

Penn State football’s recent change of its team doctor has not jeopardized the medical care of student-athletes, according to a report Friday from the former congressman appointed by the NCAA to monitor the university’s athletics department.

Sen. George Mitchell’s fifth quarterly report on Penn State’s athletics integrity progress in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal backed up the personnel moves that were criticized in a Sports Illustrated article in May.

Mitchell’s team got a concurring opinion from a renowned orthopedic surgeon whose patients have included NFL quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Tom Brady.

Overall, Mitchell’s report again praised Penn State for the progress it has made on the compliance, ethical and security fronts.

After the 2012 season, Penn State coach Bill O’Brien recommended a change in the football team’s physicians. The university replaced longtime team doctor and surgeon Wayne Sebastianelli with a team doctor based on campus and a consulting surgeon at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center.

Penn State defended the moves after the publication of the magazine article, and Mitchell’s team conducted an investigation as to whether the changes that were made conformed to rules and regulations of the NCAA, Big Ten and the university. Mitchell found that the model Penn State is using is consistent with those of peer institutions in the Big Ten and powerhouses Alabama and Auburn.

“Everyone associated with Penn State with whom we spoke professed a singular commitment to serve the best interests of the student-athletes. We have no reason to doubt the sincerity of that commitment,” Mitchell wrote.

“Most importantly, the quality of health care afforded the football student-athletes is consistent with the standard of care provided by comparable intercollegiate football programs.”

Mitchell’s investigation included interviews with Sebastianelli and the two physicians who replaced him, team doctor Peter Seidenberg and consulting orthopedic surgeon Scott Lynch, as well as O’Brien, athletic director Dave Joyner, President Rodney Erickson and the CEO of the Hershey medical school, Harold Paz.

Mitchell’s team also consulted renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, the team doctor for Alabama, Auburn and the NFL’s Washington Redskins.

According to Mitchell’s report, Andrews said Penn State’s sports medicine model is consistent with the schools where he’s affiliated. The teams receive orthopedic coverage a day each week and at games, and student-athletes are taken to Andrews’ offices in Birmingham, Ala., and Florida as medical attention is needed.

The investigation revealed that athletic trainers do not have access to the electronic medical records of the student-athletes who are their patients. Mitchell said university lawyers are working to bridge that issue while following the appropriate privacy laws.

Mitchell has been monitoring Penn State’s progress in adopting and carrying out a number of compliance, ethical and security measures for the athletic department. The measures were spelled out in the consent decree with the NCAA that authorized the sanctions against the university.

Mitchell was so wowed by Penn State’s progress over the first year that he recommended the NCAA restore the scholarships that were cut. Mitchell also suggested there’d be room for additional sanction reductions if Penn State keeps up the good work.

Other items Mitchell noted in his report include:

•  The university cooperated with authorities when a retired professor from the Abington campus was charged with having child pornography.

•  16,882 employees and students and 2,057 volunteers have completed an online training program about reporting child abuse.

•  The university filed its Clery Act reports with the U.S. Department of Education in a timely manner.

•  Seven complaints were received by athletics integrity officer Julie Del Giorno, and four have been resolved. One complaint dealt with an unaccompanied minor on an athletics facility, and another was a coach’s conduct, but the report did not elaborate.

•  Two sports personnel didn’t complete a required code of conduct certification within 30 days of starting their jobs, but Mitchell said the issue was not egregious and didn’t warrant any disciplinary action. It did, however, create the need for a protocol so that higher-level athletics officials are notified when someone does not complete the requirement.

Mike Dawson can be reached at 231-4616. Follow him on Twitter @MikeDawsonCDT.

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