Penn State

Penn State praised in first annual report from NCAA monitor George Mitchell

Penn State scored high praise for a year’s worth of work on implementing new reforms for better compliance, ethics, governance and security, as the NCAA-appointed monitor lauded the changes Friday in the first annual progress report.

Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, the athletics integrity monitor, pointed to Penn State’s implementation of most of the 119 recommendations laid out in former FBI director Louis Freeh’s report last summer. The NCAA required Penn State to adopt the recommendations as part of the consent decree, which also authorized the harsh sanctions against the university.

Mitchell also spelled out the steps the university has taken to implement the NCAA’s required athletics integrity agreement, such as the continued work of the athletics integrity officer, Julie Del Giorno, and annual training on the organization’s and Big Ten’s bylaws.

“While parties may continue to argue about the history that led to the Freeh report and the (athletics integrity agreement), a consensus has developed that the principles of the heart of these reforms are best practices for the governance of any large university,” the report’s conclusion reads.

Mitchell’s team interviewed more than 200 people, reviewed tens of thousands of documents, visited branch campuses and met with administrators and committees. He commended the university for allotting the time and energy for the undertaking.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson, in an exclusive interview Friday with the Centre Daily Times, said he was “incredibly proud” of the progress the university has made.

“This was a herculean effort in many ways,” Erickson said. “It took the involvement of lots of people from the bottom up, working with university leadership, and the board of trustees from the top down to accomplish everything that was done.”

The NCAA, in a statement issued Friday, recognized the work the university has put in and said the report demonstrates how committed the university’s leadership is to fulfilling the requirements.

“Penn State leaders have made continued progress toward ensuring a culture of athletics integrity, and we look forward to full implementation of these efforts,” the statement said.

Both Mitchell and Erickson acknowledged that work still remains on the horizon. For instance, one of the Freeh recommendations requires an analysis of the university’s culture, and Erickson said a survey will be used to explore that. As another example, Mitchell said Penn State will have to maintain the momentum it has by continuing efforts that have been put in place, such as keeping up with training mandatory child abuse reporters.

“By all indications thus far, the university has positioned itself well to meet this challenge,” the report says.

Mitchell singled out several recommendations as evidence of progress that’d been made since his last report at the end of May, such as the hiring of Sandy Weaver as the new youth programs compliance specialist.

Mitchell pointed to the board of trustees’ adoption of a five-tiered crisis communications, which ranks the severity on a scale of one being routine to five being a sudden loss or incapacity of important leaders. Level five crises have to be taken to the full board of trustees.

Mitchell also noted Penn State’s continued progress in training employees about reporting child abuse. He said 11,562 workers, students and volunteers have completed the online training in addition to more than 18,000 people who went through it in-person last year and this year.

In addition to charting Penn State’s progress, the report provides a rundown of the legal issues and events involving Penn State directly or indirectly.

It noted the Paterno family’s lawsuit against the NCAA and the one state Sen. Jake Corman ans state Treasurer Rob McCord brought against the organization to keep the $60 million fine from being spent outside Pennsylvania.

The report briefly touched on the departure of Wayne Sebastianelli, the football team’s doctor. But the report said Mitchell’s team is reviewing the change and will “observe how medical care is provided to the football team during the upcoming season.” The findings will be in the next quarterly report due at the end of November, the report said.

Mitchell’s report acknowledges the board of trustees executive session during which coach Bill O’Brien spoke of the impact of the NCAA’s sanctions and a proposal to request the scholarship provision be modified. But Mitchell made no recommendation himself that the NCAA should reduce the penalties.

Mitchell said the $60 million fine Penn State has to pay has not resulted in budget cuts or elimination of any varsity team. The report also notes that the surplus in the athletic department has decreased each of the past three fiscal years.

Mitchell was appointed by the NCAA to watch over the university’s progress after the organization imposed the sanctions last year. One of the provisions of the consent decree was that a monitor would oversee Penn State’s compliance and integrity work for five years.