George Mitchell will not be looming over Penn State’s shoulder anymore.
The former senator, who has served as the university’s independent monitor since his appointment by the NCAA in 2012 after historic sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, announced Friday he will step down. He named Charles Scheeler, senior counsel at Mitchell’s law firm, DLA Piper, and lead member of the monitoring team, to take his place.
“It has been a pleasure for me to work with all of the parties in this matter. I am grateful to the NCAA and the Big Ten for placing their confidence in me at the outset,” Mitchell said in a statement. “I also am grateful to the many Penn State officials, past and present, with whom I have worked. Penn State has made a determined and good-faith effort to comply with its commitments under the Athletics Integrity Agreement. This has been a challenging time for everyone involved. But I believe that as a result of this process Penn State will emerge better and stronger than ever.”
Mitchell’s oversight was in place to ensure Penn State’s cooperation with the athletics integrity agreement between the university, the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference.
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The reports were uniformly positive.
In 2013, there was a partial rollback of sanctions as the NCAA returned some of the scholarships handcuffed after the university accepted the consent decree that paved the way for the punishment. In 2014, another successful year of monitoring gave back more scholarships and restored postseason play eligibility.
But Mitchell’s job may have lost purpose in January when the consent decree was repealed as part of the settlement of a lawsuit between state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, versus the NCAA and Penn State over the $60 million fine that was part of the penalty package.
At that time, Mitchell’s continued presence as watchdog was specifically noted, but in his September 2014 report, the monitor said he would consider recommending in September 2015 that the oversight be discontinued ahead of schedule.
“The university would like to express its appreciation for Sen. Mitchell’s role in and contributions to the university’s implementation of the Athletics Integrity Agreement, both directly and as the independent evaluator of the university’s efforts,” Penn State President Eric Barron said in a release. “We believe that implementation of the requirements of the Athletics Integrity Agreement has resulted in significant improvements in policies and procedures aimed at protecting and enhancing safety, ethics, integrity and compliance and we look forward to continuing to work with Charlie Scheeler in his role as the independent monitor."
The announcement came hand in hand with Mitchell’s latest quarterly report.
In the 10th report, Mitchell noted the university’s sexual assault and sexual harassment task force report, issued in January and accepted last week by Barron; updated policies, procedures and training programs for protecting minors; town hall meetings on values and culture; emails in addition to text messages and other postings for warnings about campus issues; and implementation of a new human resources information system and physical security measures at athletic and recreation facilities.
“This reporting period, we observed significant activity in the Office of Ethics and Compliance to bring Penn State’s child protection policies and training into conformity with new Pennsylvania laws that took effect on Dec. 31, 2014,” Mitchell said in his statement.
“Penn State’s administrative leadership has reiterated to me personally, and to the public, its commitment to complete and sustain both the many compliance improvements recommended in the Freeh report as well as independent initiatives the university has undertaken over the past two years,” he said.
Penn State trustee Anthony Lubrano continued to express his displeasure at the need for a monitor and the associated expenses.
“As someone who would not sign the Athletics Integrity Agreement, my long-held belief has been that both the AIA and George Mitchell were unnecessary,” he said. “Penn State never lacked integrity. Hence this agreement is a complete waste of more than $3 million. At a time when we appear to be challenged to keep tuition down, we have no problem spending the university’s scarce resources to appease the NCAA and the Big Ten. Shame on us.
“As for George Mitchell, I wish him well. However, in my view, he demonstrated a complete lack of integrity by associating himself with this charade. Like Louis Freeh, he took the money anyway.”