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EDITORIAL: Red flag in Penn State report

York Dispatch
YorkDispatch

If they're ever looking for work, Sandy Barbour and James Franklin could easily find jobs as political spin doctors.

That became apparent a little more than a week ago. That's when the Penn State athletic director and head football coach tried to twist a less-than-complimentary report into something relatively benign.

In case you missed it, Charles Scheeler, the independent athletics integrity monitor for PSU, recommended last week that his scrutiny of the university should end two years early.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal at PSU, the university reached an Athletics Integrity Agreement in 2012 with the Big Ten and the NCAA to have the school's athletics department independently "monitored." The first monitor was former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. Scheeler succeeded him in 2015. The monitoring was supposed to last until 2017.

Scheeler, however, has been so impressed with PSU's ethics and compliance reforms that he recommended his monitoring end two years early.

The university's response to one of the worst scandals in the history of college athletics has been laudable, Scheeler reported. Serious progress had been made to assure that something so egregious would never happen again in Happy Valley.

That's the good news.

But, buried deep within the report, was a two-paragraph section titled: "Football."

That's where the bad news comes in.

Scheeler's report said: "There is evidence of increased tension, and a mutual lack of trust, between the head football coach (Franklin) and university athletics compliance staff."

Scheeler said that Barbour, Franklin and the compliance people freely acknowledged the issue. One area of particular concern to the compliance people was the fact they were not receiving reports of all infractions allegedly committed by student-athletes.

That should have thrown up an immediate red flag.

Instead, Barbour and Franklin simply tried to brush it off as no big deal.

Barbour told the Philadelphia Inquirer that: "Some level of tension is natural. They are highly competitive people."

Franklin, at a news conference a day after the report was released, said: "We have a healthy dialogue."

"Increased tension and a mutual lack of trust" is neither "natural" nor "healthy," especially when it describes the relationship between a head football coach and a university's athletics compliance staff.

The compliance staff is there to make sure that the athletics department abides by "the university's integrity, civility, ethics and institutional control obligations."

That's a fancy way of saying the compliance folks are there to make sure the sports folks do the right things.

Franklin and the compliance staff should be working hand-in-hand to assure that the football program is operating in a fair and honest manner, especially given the school's recent history.

The fact that there is tension and a lack of trust should not be brushed off. It's a charge that should be taken very seriously.

No amount of spin can change that.