NCAA integrity monitor George Mitchell: ‘Good faith’ from Penn State in reform progress

Penn State received another glowing report card from the watchdog the NCAA appointed to monitor the university’s adherence to an athletics integrity agreement that was agreed to after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Former Sen. George Mitchell delivered on Friday his third quarterly report to Penn State, saying the university’s officials “continued to press forward in good faith” from March to May by implementing such reforms as reducing the size of the board of trustees and making available online mandated-reporter training. Mitchell said Penn State administrators and staff have given his team nothing but “full cooperation.”

Penn State must pay for the work done by Mitchell’s team, and as of Feb. 28, the bill exceeded $1.4 million.

The latest report from Mitchell follows two other positive reports, the first in November and the second in February, in which the monitor noted the university was making strides in adopting reforms.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson said Mitchell’s report “validates the significant reforms” university officials have worked to put in place. It also shows the university’s “steadfast and ongoing commitment” to integrity and ethics, he said.

“Our (b)oard of (t)rustees has restructured its governance to be more open and efficient, and we are working to set the bar for our operations in human resources, security, athletics and compliance,” Erickson said in a statement. “There still is more to be done, but we are pleased that our efforts are being praised by Sen. Mitchell and his team, and by other external entities that have an interest in our progress.”

Mitchell’s report outlined the dozens of actions university officials have made. Some of them do not seem to catch the attention of anyone who does not work in the 16802 ZIP code, such as employee policies, while others have gotten significant attention from the outside.

Among the most sizable reforms Mitchell noted was the downsizing of the board of trustees from 32 to 30 members by taking away the president’s and governor’s voting powers. Mitchell also pointed out the revamped trustees’ conflict of interest policy that expands the definition of what could trigger a potential conflict.

In addition, the report also mentions two officials whose positions were created as a result of recommendations from the Freeh report: the athletics integrity officer, Julie Del Giorno, and the ethics and compliance officer, Regis Becker.

Mitchell said Del Giorno is a part of high-level meetings, such those with Athletic Director Dave Joyner’s executive staff and with coaches twice a week. Becker’s hiring subsequently satisfied eight of the 119 Freeh recommendations, the report said.

So far, Penn State has completed 76 of the recommendations, and 27 of them are considered in place and ongoing.

In April, Penn State rolled out an online version of mandated-reporter training to recognize signs of child abuse, and as of Mitchell’s report, almost 5,900 people completed it. Mitchell said someone on his team took the training and “found it to be thorough.”

The report notes the changing of the guard on the football team’s sports medicine staff, from longtime team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli to the duo of Scot Lynch and Peter Seidenberg, which sparked national media attention from an article in Sports Illustrated. Mitchell said the next report, in August, will look into that issue.

Mitchell said the next quarterly report will be accompanied by an annual review.