After its meeting on Friday, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents decided to assume control and responsibility of both of the following investigations.
At Maryland’s press conference on Aug. 14, university president Wallace Loh announced a a four-person panel that will investigate the school’s football program. That’s in addition to one investigation that was already underway.
Both investigations are connected in some way to the death of Terps football player Jordan McNair, who collapsed at a team workout on May 29 and died two weeks later. They address different depths of the program and the athletic department.
What’s the mission of each investigation?
One investigation is underway by Walters, Inc., a sports medicine group. The Walters investigation is into the team’s conditioning and practice sessions. From documents obtained by The Diamondback:
The contract charges Walters Inc. with reviewing the program’s “procedures and protocols involving student-athlete health and safety” as they pertain to both “planning and conducting team conditioning and practice sessions” and “responding to health emergencies during or after those sessions.” The firm is to conduct this review based on current industry standards.
The investigation announced by Loh and since modified by the Board is into the “conduct of the football staff and of the football program climate.” This one is a direct result of ESPN’s larger report into the culture of the program. From Loh’s letter to the Maryland community:
I take very seriously the allegations reported in the media about the culture of our football program, citing instances of alleged intimidation and humiliation as ways to “toughen up” players. I am also mindful of other published reports in which some Maryland football players disagree with this portrayal of the program.
Who is performing each investigation?
The investigation into Maryland’s conditioning and practice sessions is being done by Walters Inc. and led by Dr. Rod Walters, a former trainer for multiple Power 5 football programs and a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association Hall of Fame. The number of staff members involved in the Walters investigation is not clear.
Loh initially announced these members of the investigative panel:
Ben Legg, retired Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for Maryland.
Alex Williams, retired Judge, U.S. District Court for Maryland and former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney.
Charlie Scheeler, senior counsel, DLA Piper; former prosecutor, U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland; lead counsel, investigation of steroid use in Major League Baseball; monitor of Penn State’s compliance under its Athletics Integrity Agreement with the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference.
Frederick M. Azar, M.D., Chief of Staff at Campbell Clinic Orthopaedics, and Professor and Director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship program in the University of Tennessee‐Campbell Clinic Department of Orthopaedic Surgery & Biomedical Engineering;
Bonnie Bernstein, Founder, Walk Swiftly Productions, nearly 20 years as sports journalist for ESPN, ABC and CBS, University of Maryland, College Park alumna, where she was an Academic All-American gymnast;
Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., former Maryland Governor, former captain of the Princeton University football team;
C. Thomas McMillen, former United States Congressman, current President and CEO of the LEAD1 Association (which represents the athletic directors and programs of the Football Bowl Subdivision), former co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, former member of the USM Board of Regents, and University of Maryland, College Park alumnus, where he was an All-American and Academic All-American basketball player; and,
Doug Williams, Washington Redskins Senior Vice President of Player Personnel, Super Bowl winning quarterback, and former head football coach at Morehouse College and Grambling State University.
What is each investigation doing?
We know the Walters investigation is interviewing players. I’m not sure anything beyond that has been reported. What anonymous players told ESPN about the way that the Walters investigation is unfolding did not reflect positively on the process:
Players had to return early from their time off to meet with investigators on Aug. 1, two days before the first preseason workout. A sign-up sheet was posted on the office door of Jason Baisden, the team’s assistant athletic director for football operations and equipment. Meetings took place in the offensive staff’s meeting room in the Gossett Football Team House.
”They tried to interview players at the most inconvenient time, in Gossett, basically right in front of Durkin’s office,” one of the current players said.
”Basically anybody can walk by, any coach or whoever really wants to can walk by and see who signed up and see who’s talking to the investigation,” the other current player said. “They’re singling us out even more when it’s supposed to be an anonymous investigation.”
Maryland disputes this.
“There were multiple ways student-athletes could volunteer participation in the external review, including confidentially meeting with consultants to offer information without being identified,” a spokesperson told ESPN.
Loh says the panel he appoints will interview football players, parents, staff members and “other stakeholders.” We’ll tell you more when we find out more about what’s going on.
Whose jobs could be at risk?
The Walters investigation, at least from my reading, appears to be focused on the strength and conditioning staff and training staffs, and not on the on-field coaching staff. However, the stated charges of examining “procedures and protocols involving student-athlete health and safety” and “planning and conducting team conditioning and practice sessions” would appear to leave open the possibility that any wrongdoing by members of the on-field coaching staff could be revealed as a result. It appears unlikely that the Walters investigation would implicate anyone above DJ Durkin.
The Loh investigation is into the football program as a whole. In essence, it is a response to ESPN’s longer story on Maryland’s culture, which cited coaching based on fear and intimidation, humiliation, verbal abuse and the use of food as punishment.
It’s not hard to see this as the investigation that ends with Maryland terminating Durkin. Will other coaches join him? Will AD Damon Evans? It’s impossible to know yet, but I wouldn’t rule either of those possibilities out.
When did each investigation start?
The Walters investigation started in mid-June. Maryland announced it had hired Walters a week after announcing McNair’s death. A preliminary finding Loh announced Tuesday was that trainers did not take McNair’s vital signs, as well as:
Some preliminary findings on Jordan McNair's death, from Maryland AD Damon Evans:— Testudo Times (@testudotimes) August 14, 2018
*Jordan did not receive appropriate medical care, and mistakes were made by training personnel
*UMD's emergency response plan was not followed
*Heat illness was not properly identified or treated
Loh’s committee met for the first time at some point during the week of Aug. 12, he said at the press conference.
When will each investigation end?
The school has said on multiple occasions that the Walters investigation is expected to be completed by Sept. 15.
Loh did not give a specific date, saying only that his investigation would be “expeditious”:
“We take these reports very seriously, but I think due process does require us to lay out the facts, give people a chance to respond and then we will act. But this is not going to take forever. This is going to be an expedited but yet very careful review with all the confidentiality — confidentiality in terms of allowing people to speak confidentially and candidly.”
This story has been updated multiple times since its initial publication.