Mitchell commends university leaders on athletics integrity agreement response

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Sen. George Mitchell, the independent, third-party athletics integrity monitor for Penn State, addressed members of the University’s Board of Trustees during a public session held Nov. 22 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus. Mitchell noted Penn State’s implementation of virtually all of the Freeh recommendations and all of its annual obligations under the Athletics Integrity Agreement (AIA).

Throughout his work, he said, his findings have been consistent.

“Penn State has cooperated fully with me and my staff and has provided unfettered access to all of the information we sought, and to the workings of the university,” Mitchell said. “Starting with President Erickson and throughout its entire leadership, Penn State has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to fulfilling the requirements of the Athletics Integrity Agreement. As a result, Penn State has substantially completed the initial implementation of the tasks outlined in the Athletics Integrity Agreement. Penn State has taken steps to ensure that there is appropriate oversight of intercollegiate athletics at the highest levels of the University’s leadership.”

Mitchell’s first annual report, issued in September, noted with approval the governance reforms enacted by the University's Board of Trustees; the work of Penn State’s chief ethics and compliance officer and athletics integrity officer; the significant work being done to coordinate youth programming, including the hiring of a full time youth program coordinator; and the development, review and improvement of a number of University policies and procedures in areas such as police, safety, risk management and human resources. The sum total of these efforts, the report said, represents an institution-wide, top down and bottom-up effort to reinforce and strengthen the University’s commitment to integrity and core values.

Mitchell said Penn State’s continued, good-faith efforts to fulfill the requirements could lead to a further reduction of the sanctions imposed by the NCAA in July of 2012. Those sanctions were modified in September in reaction to Mitchell’s report.

“My recommendation to modify the sanctions was focused on those penalties that most directly affect the student athlete, restoring a portion of the reductions in scholarships. Because of the University’s hard work, more student athletes will be able to play football for Penn State with a grant-in-aid in the coming years,” Mitchell said. “I have suggested that the NCAA consider a multi-staged approach that would first provide relief in the near-term by modifying the reductions in scholarships and then holding out the prospect of further mitigation in the future if Penn State continues to engage in the same quality of effort that it has demonstrated over the past year.”

As part of the effort to continue the progress of the past 18 months, Penn State recently announced its Plan for Continuous Improvement, which applies the change management structures currently in place to a variety of critical, ongoing strategic initiatives.

Mitchell encouraged Penn State’s trustees and administration to continue their work, and commended all members of the Penn State community for their resilience through the past two years.

“The Penn State community is very large and devoted in a positive and admirable sense to this university. I also recognize that there remains disagreement within the Penn State community over the actions taken by the NCAA and by the University, and that many legal actions, civil and criminal, remain pending,” Mitchell said. “I encourage everyone to exchange their ideas and views in a civil manner that will reflect well on this institution. I also encourage everyone never to lose sight of what everyone involved should have in common, and that is a deep devotion to Penn State University, to its future, and perhaps most importantly, to the young people who are educated here.”

The University, the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference entered into the Athletics Integrity Agreement in August 2012 as part of the consent decree imposed by the NCAA. The agreement contains a number of prescriptive measures designed to ensure that the University continues to meet or exceed all applicable NCAA and Big Ten rules and standards of integrity. A review of the University’s progress by an external monitor like Mitchell was one of the recommendations made by Freeh.

With the approval of the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference, Mitchell’s team will continue its independent evaluation of Penn State’s activities and a report outlining actions taken will continue to be produced on a quarterly basis. Mitchell's five-year appointment as the University's independent monitor began in August 2012. Mitchell's previous update was issued May 31.

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Last Updated November 22, 2013