The governing board of Maryland’s public university system Friday asserted control over the widening investigation of football at the state’s flagship school following the death of a player who collapsed during a spring training session.
In a special meeting closed to the public, the Board of Regents voted to intensify its oversight of two inquiries related to University of Maryland football: one looking at the circumstances behind Jordan McNair’s death and the second examining the culture of the football program.
Going forward, the board said it will manage the two inquiries that had been launched by U-Md. officials. In effect, the action shifts primary oversight of the matter from the campus to the system leadership. Exactly how that will affect the handling of the probe remains to be seen. The board plans to reveal details on the process next week.
The action came as Gov. Larry Hogan said he has urged the board chairman to “get to the bottom” of what happened.
McNair, 19, an offensive lineman for the University of Maryland, died in June after suffering exertional heatstroke at a May 29 workout. Leaders of the university in College Park met with McNair’s family this week to apologize for lapses in treatment of the student.
Trainers failed to take the player’s temperature at the time of the collapse or bathe him in ice water immediately to cool his body, officials acknowledged, steps that experts say could have saved McNair’s life.
The Board of Regents, which oversees U-Md. and several other public universities, was briefed on the situation in a conference call Friday that lasted nearly four hours.
“Everyone throughout the University System of Maryland was deeply saddened by the death of Jordan McNair,” Board of Regents Chairman James Brady said in a statement afterward. “Our thoughts continue to be with his family and friends, and with everyone at [U-Md.] at this very difficult time.”
Brady said the board was “fully briefed” by U-Md. President Wallace D. Loh about the circumstances of McNair’s death, actions taken since and “the alarming allegations that have emerged in the last week related to the football program.”
“After a long and robust discussion, the board voted unanimously to assume responsibility for the investigations into these two separate issues. Our goal is to ensure that all system universities, including [U-Md.], are actively working to protect the health and safety of every student and to foster a supportive culture in which everyone can flourish,” Brady said.
The board also asked the state attorney general to represent U-Md. and the system on “any and all legal claims” related to McNair’s death.
Hogan (R) said he was not on the board’s conference call.
“The only thing we know for sure is tragically a young man lost his life,” Hogan told reporters in Ocean City. He said it was essential to learn who was responsible.
“I don’t know whether that means it’s the assistant coach, or the trainer, or the head coach, or the athletic director, or the president of the university,” Hogan said. “I mean, at this point we don’t know where the buck stops. But we’re going to find out.”
Hogan does not have direct authority over the university administration, but as governor he is empowered to make appointments to the Board of Regents with the consent of the state Senate. He appointed Brady to the board.
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous, running against Hogan in the fall election, also has called for U-Md. to take action to protect athletes.
System officials have been monitoring the growing uproar over McNair’s death and news reports that have described the culture of the football program as abusive.
Loh had convened an external panel to review the practices and culture of the program, in addition to a separate inquiry into what happened to McNair. Now, the Board of Regents will manage those two reviews and receive reports on their findings.
Football coach DJ Durkin has been placed on administrative leave pending the reviews. Rick Court, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, has resigned.
Loh said in a statement: “We welcome the oversight of the Board of Regents at this critical time. We must thoroughly investigate the death of student-athlete Jordan McNair and understand the allegations of the culture of our football program so that we can ensure the health and well-being of every one of our student-athletes. We will continue to honor Jordan’s life, and we will work with our Board of Regents to ensure that a tragedy like this never happens again.”
The university system spans U-Md. and 10 other schools, including the University of Maryland Baltimore. UMB, as it is known, has schools of law, dentistry and medicine, among others.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Loh rejected a 2017 proposal to overhaul how U-Md. delivers health care to athletes. The proposal from the athletic director at the time, Kevin Anderson, called for athletic trainers in College Park to report to the School of Medicine in Baltimore and to have autonomy from the U-Md. athletic department.
Loh declined to adopt the proposal, according to people with direct knowledge, because he did not want medical personnel decisions to be made by a separate institution.