How Sen.Mitchell’s Integrity Report Overlooks PSU’s Effort to ‘Gut’ a Basic Reform

It looks as though former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell probably anticipated that babysitting the Mad Bull which has been Penn State sports –which he’s been hired to do as the new “Independent Athletics Integrity Monitor” mandated by the July 2012 Freeh report — shouldn’t have been any more difficult than getting Northern Ireland Protestants and Catholics to finally cuddle up amongst all the historical gunpowder.

Well — based upon Sen. Mitchell’s first “Monitorship” Quarterly Report, dated November 30 –we’ll see.

BlogMitchell

According to Mitchell’s very favorable report, PSU has, over the last year or so:

— Developed an “Activity Matrix” for tracking progress;
— Revised or developed policies, including policies to govern background checks for university employees, access to University Athletics and recreational facilities, protection of children involved in university affiliated activities, and the duties to report possible child abuse;
— Established the Athletics Integrity Council, is recruiting an Athletics Integrity Officer, and is in the process of adopting a new code of conduct for intercollegiate athletics;
— Announced establishment of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children.

Team Monitors: Sen. Mitchell also reports that PSU has agreed, as a part of implementing the overall new “Integrity Program,” to the appointment of a“Team Monitor” for each of PSU’s 31 intercollegiate athletics teams. This requires the Team Monitor to report on any

“issues or problems that have arisen during that year and any corrective action taken in response…. and to certify that his or her team is in compliance with applicable rules of the NCAA and Big Ten conference.”

PSU has, in consultation with the Monitor “developed a certification form for this purpose.

This all sounds well and good, since the new ‘Team Monitor’ would appear to be a suitable, and badly needed “second set” of at least somewhat independent and objective eyes which can help keep in check the raging Mad Bull of Football at PSU. This new Team Monitor, and his required Annual Report, are particularly necessary in light of recent history.

In fact, existing NCAA Bylaws have long required that any Head Coach file a very similar annual reporting form which formally certifies that his program is in complete compliance with all NCAA Bylaws.

jim-tressel

But we all know by now how spectacularly unreliable those annual reports have been. Back in September 2010, former OSU Coach Jim Tressel filed that very NCAA Report, attesting that there were no NCAA violations in his program– even though he had received, five months earlier, emails informing him that his players had illegally sold memorabilia in violation of NCAA Bylaws.

JoPaHalfDark

And — more relevant to the Monitor’s PSU oversight effort, former PSU Coach Paterno also filed the very same Annual certification form, attesting that there were no NCAA violations in his program.

Both coaches repeatedly lied when they filled out those forms. Both coaches fraudulently concealed information, and used that annual form as an integral part of that plan to fraudulently conceal.

So we’ve learned from very recent and directly relevant experience that this system of having the Head Coach annually fill out a form affirming the absence of NCAA violations is system which might not — in light of the Mad Bull of Sport — work too well. 

We’ve also learned a much broader, more fundamental lesson about the realities of that Mad Bull of College Sport, based on the fact that both Tressel and Paterno had been– prior to the staggering scandals in both their programs– universally revered coaches of unquestioned integrity:

For regulatory oversight purposes, one must now presume that any Head Coach may have a strong propensity to lie and fraudulently conceal, as both Tressel and Paterno did.

So the combined effort of the Freeh Report and “Integrity Monitor” Mitchell to require the appointment of an independent “Team Monitor” for each sport is, on its’ face, a very appropriate and necessary step.

Except that  — based solely on the way PSU has chosen to implement it it’s not.  Here’s the small — but very important — explanatory sentence in the Mitchell Quarterly Report:

“The University intends to name head coach of each intercollegiate athletics team to be the ‘Team Monitor’ for their teams.”

All this time, all these events, all these studies and reports, and this sentence reveals that a major reform, meant to impose a pragmatic, “street-level” oversight reporting by an Independent Team Monitor, is reduced to being not just inconsequential, but also entirely redundant.

It’s redundant because the Coach already has that duty, under NCAA Bylaw, to annually attest to the absence of any NCAA violations in his program. And Paterno and Tressel have already shown us how strong the urge is for a Head Coach to lie and cover up when he fills out that form.

I’m respectfully suggesting here that the good Senator Mitchell may have whiffed on this one. The end result here is the gutting of what was a well-intended and likely quite effective vehicle to help reform the mess at PSU.

This is one circumstance where the “Integrity Monitor” needs to use his position to disagree with PSU’s effort to gut this highly necessary reform, and insist that the Head Coach cannot serve as the Team Monitor.

Well, you argue, isn’t it going to be very expensive and unwieldy to have to have a new independent Team Monitor for 31 sports? My answer is — yes.  And we all know that the Mad Bull rages at Penn State only in football (though it rages in basketball at other like institutions.)  So just require the appointment of an independent, separate Team Monitor for PSU Football and Basketball.  Let the coaches for other sports serve as the Team Monitors.  There are a number of options available. And I might even suggest that, for Football, the Team Monitor have direct reporting responsibility up “above” the Athletic Director, to the President, or to Senator Mitchell himself.

Senator Mitchell needs to reconsider the implementation of the Team Monitor reform.

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About brewonsouthu

Michigan and Big Ten fan, former lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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