Big Ten: George Mitchell


Penn State coach Bill O'Brien reiterated Friday that he understood why the NCAA imposed severe sanctions on the program almost exactly a year ago.

But O'Brien also believes Penn State's off-field progress in the past year and a half shouldn't go unnoticed. Perhaps it can sway the NCAA to reconsider the penalties against Nittany Lions football.

"I believe this football program is being run the right way," O'Brien said Friday during a conference call with reporters to discuss Penn State's 2014 opener against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland. "I believe we have great kids here. We work very, very diligently to stay in compliance. We make our mistakes, but we admit them right away, whether it's a text message or something like that we shouldn't have said.

"Hopefully, at some point in time, the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, can look at that. And maybe they can meet us halfway."

NCAA president Mark Emmert has given no indication he'll consider reducing penalties for Penn State, which include a four-year postseason ban and major scholarship reductions. Penn State continues to receive good marks from former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, the independent athletic integrity monitory appointed to track the school's progress in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Last Friday, O'Brien made a presentation to Penn State's board of trustees where he reportedly addressed a potential proposal to modify the NCAA sanctions and discouraged individual lawsuits against the NCAA, which could hurt the program's cause for a reprieve. O'Brien on Friday confirmed that he made the presentation but didn't discuss many specifics, referring questions to university president Rodney Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner.

"What I believe is best for our football program and our kids, is for everybody to pull in the same direction," O'Brien said. "Hopefully, we can continue to do that."

Joyner added that the university has "done an outstanding job" in the year since the sanctions came down.

"The university is on very solid ground," Joyner said.
The NCAA's severe punitive penalties for Penn State football garnered most of the attention last week, but both the NCAA and Big Ten also outlined some corrective measures for the program. One of them: to have an independent athletics integrity monitor for the athletic program.

Now we know who this person will be: former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.

The NCAA on Wednesday tapped Mitchell to evaluate Penn State for the next five years. He'll monitor the school's compliance and make sure it adheres to the athletic integrity agreement it will reach with both the NCAA and the Big Ten. Mitchell will make recommendations to ensure Penn State enhances its commitment to "NCAA and Big Ten principles, values, ethics and rules."

From the NCAA release:
In his role as monitor, Mitchell will prepare quarterly progress reports for the NCAA, the Big Ten and Penn State’s board of trustees. He will be assisted by his law firm, DLA Piper, and can employ other legal counsel, consultants, investigators, experts and personnel as needed to perform his duties.
Penn State is expected to sign the agreement mid-August once Mitchell has reviewed the language.
"I enter this engagement mindful of the fact that this tragedy has deeply affected many lives, starting, of course, with the victims and their families," Mitchell said. "I will do my best to fulfill my independent oversight responsibilities to help ensure that Penn State University moves promptly and decisively to achieve the very high level of trust and integrity needed to fulfill its important mission to those it serves."

If Mitchell's name rings a bell -- and it should -- he's the same guy Major League Baseball commissioned to investigate the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the sport. The Mitchell Report was released in December 2007.

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