Penn State ramps up defense of medical care

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Word broke last night that Sports Illustrated would be publishing a piece that was highly critical the lingering sports culture at Penn State in general and the medical care given to student-athletes specifically.

The university responded swiftly, releasing a statement that called the SI report “erroneous” and is essentially an attempt to “sensationalize” a non-issue.  Wednesday afternoon, PSU’s defense of its medical procedures ramped up another notch or two.

Appearing on ESPN‘s “College Football Live” program, head coach Bill O’Brien lashed out at the report, which is not available in full online but a summary can be viewed by clicking HERE.  O’Brien stated that he’s heard from a handful of current and former Nittany Lion football players who would like to know what they can do “to get in front of this” apparently scathing six-page report.

“We here at Penn State would never jeopardize the health and safety of our players. We don’t have any horse in that race,” O’Brien said in quotes provided by PennLive.com. “It’s very upsetting to me that the word out there is that we don’t have proper care for our student-athletes.”

O’Brien added that “the only thing that matters to me” is the safety of his players.

The SI report was particularly critical of the fact that O’Brien made suggestions regarding the medical care of his players, including parting ways with long-time team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli.  O’Brien stated that he merely made the recommendation; it was up to his superiors to make the final call on a change in medical personnel.

“At the end of the year, I met with [athletic director Dave] Joyner and Rod Erickson about a lot of improvements that needed to be made,” O’Brien said. “My recommendation was to move in another direction with the doctors on this team. I don’t do the hiring and firing. That’s for the people above me.”

In addition to O’Brien’s television appearance, Penn State also issued a series of new statements questioning the credibility of the piece.  The one below comes from Dr. Harold Paz, senior vice president for Health Affairs, Chief Executive Officer, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and dean of the College of Medicine:

“The article suggests that the quality of care provided to Penn State student athletes has been jeopardized by a change in team physicians. It simply isn’t the case. Drs. Seidenberg and Lynch, the physicians now responsible for the day-to-day care of Penn State football players are both experienced clinicians, fellowship-trained in Sports Medicine and committed to providing expert medical care to our students athletes.

“Any suggestion that care is being compromised by the change in physician assignments is both unsubstantiated and incorrect.

“The article further suggests that Dr. Sebastianelli is no longer playing a role in supporting the University’s athletic teams. In fact, as Director of Athletic Medicine, Dr. Sebastianelli remains the doctor in charge of the University’s entire medical program for intercollegiate athletics.”

A general statement released by the university begins by claiming that “[t]he article fundamentally distorts the facts,” including the very premise of the article.

“There has been no change in the model of medical care for our student athletes. The allegations on why the change in team physician was made is ludicrous. Worst of all, the article ignores the fact that Dr. Sebastianelli remains the doctor in charge of the University’s entire medical program for intercollegiate athletics, including football. In addition, the university athletic trainer reported directly to Dr. Sebastianelli, who supervised the trainer’s work. A review shows Penn State’s medical coverage is on par with, or exceeds, peer institutions.”

To show just how their medical coverage compares to other institutions, Penn State sent out yet another press release titled “Football Physician In-Season Coverage” in which the medical coverage of other major FBS football programs is compared to the system in place at Penn State:

Penn State
– Primary care physician attends all practices and games. On Sunday, examines every player who played in the game previous day and any others in need of attention.
– Orthopedic physician attends at least one practice each week (Wed.) and all games. Available post-practice Monday, Tuesday and Thursday if necessary. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Iowa
– Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.
– Orthopedic physician is available post-practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

LSU
– Primary care physician available post-practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.
– Orthopedic physician available post-practice Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Michigan State
– Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.
– Orthopedic physician is available post-practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Northwestern
– Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.
– Orthopedic physician is available post-practice once or twice a week. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Nebraska
– Primary care physician is available to attend practice and see players post-practice Monday-Friday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.
– Orthopedic physician is available post-practice Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players.

Ohio State
– A primary care physician is available to see players early a.m. Monday-Friday and post-practice on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Sunday, the physician is available to examine all players. Attends all games.
– An Orthopedic physician is available to see players post-practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. On Sunday, is available to examine all players. Attends all games.
– At least one of the three team physicians attends practice or a part of practice every day and sees players at the conclusion of each practice as needed for new injuries or follow-up care.

Former Michigan WR Drake Harris announces transfer to Western Michigan

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Michigan wideout Drake Harris announced  in November he’s leaving Ann Arbor for his final season of college football. On Saturday, we learned Harris is heading west. But not that far west.

Harris revealed in an Instagram post he will enroll at Western Michigan as a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately for the Broncos. “I’m happy to announce that I will be playing my last year of eligibility at Western Michigan University, while pursuing a masters degree. Excited to get working with Coach Lester and the rest of the coaching staff for a great year next season. Go Broncos,” he wrote.

Harris was one of the prized members of Brady Hoke‘s final recruiting class, but never found his footing as a Wolverine. In 25 career games, Harris caught nine passes for 60 yards.

He’ll join a receiving corps that returns intact but could use help. Western Michigan returns all eight wide receivers who caught a pass in 2017, but none of them snagged more than 30 receptions. WMU ranked 111th in completions and 116th in passing en route to a 6-6 finish in Tim Lester‘s first season as head coach.

Harris will face Syracuse in his first game as a Bronco — Aug. 31 in Kalamazoo — before returning to a familiar place for Game No. 2. Western Michigan visits the Big House on Sept. 8.

Jimbo Fisher vows to change culture at Texas A&M

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.