Nestled among the laudable commentary and public relations message about Penn State’s latest integrity monitor report is a nugget about Penn State football and Coach James Franklin’s apparently tumultuous relationship with the athletic compliance staff. The report, which was released today, commended Penn State on its swift adoption of the controversial Freeh report recommendations and its compliance with the maligned NCAA consent decree. However, integrity monitor Charles Scheeler noted some issues with the football team on page 27 of the report (presented in full below):
There is evidence of increased tension, and a mutual lack of trust, between the head football coach and University athletics compliance staff. I have spoken to the athletic director, head football coach, director of ethics and compliance, athletics integrity officer, and athletics compliance staff members about this. All parties acknowledge the problem. Equally important, all parties have expressed a commitment to improving the communications and relationships between one another. This suggests the problem is solvable if the parties honor these commitments.
At the same time, this development highlights the efficacy of certain reforms undertaken by the University. Athletics compliance personnel no longer report to the athletic director; instead, they report directly to the director of ethics and compliance. This independence from the Athletics Department is a governance best practice. Additionally, the athletic director and the senior associate athletic director for administration are both former athletics compliance officers and are closely overseeing this situation. These safeguards provide additional assurance that the football program will operate in a compliant manner.
According to the report, Penn State football self-reported nine minor infractions to the NCAA last year — a slight increase from the previous year — although it says the NCAA has “viewed this increase in reported infractions favorably; that is, an indication of a more healthy reporting climate.” Some of the infractions were the result of inappropriate social media use, which the integrity monitor says is “correctable with increased rules education,” although the report does not get into specifics.
President Eric Barron had a positive outlook in the situation during a brief interview earlier this afternoon with StateCollege.com.
“The monitor even mentioned a little bit of conflict between the compliance officer and football and even noted that the process is very good and communication occurs and the issues get solved,” Barron said. “From a governance standpoint, that makes me feel very comfortable, because I know there are people making sure we’re doing this right and it helps me focus on other aspects of the university’s mission.”
Franklin is not the first Penn State coach to clash with the new athletics integrity office and reporting structure. Legendary fencing coach Emmanuil Kaidanov sued Penn State and athletics integrity monitor Julie Del Giorno after being fired in August 2013 for a still unclear incident involving retaliation against an employee for reporting what turned out to be incorrect information about a fencer possessing drugs.
Needless to say, the athletic department and its reporting structure is vastly different and more bureaucratic now than it was three years ago — the athletic integrity office didn’t even exist back then, and the university has gone through four athletic directors (including two interims) since 2011 — and Franklin is certainly not exempt from these growing pains.