A committee tasked with implementing recommendations from two investigations into the University of Maryland’s football program said that it’s almost reached that goal.
After offensive lineman Jordan McNair suffered fatal heatstroke at a May team workout, one investigation looked into the circumstances surrounding his death, while the other scrutinized the school’s football culture. At its first meeting Wednesday, the committee said it has accomplished 18 of 20 pieces of guidance from the first report and 12 of 21 from the latter.
In the coming months, the six-member committee of higher education and athletics professionals — chaired by former system Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan — will examine the rest of the recommendations: establishing an athletic medical review board and a model for supervising athletic trainers and therapists in line with best practices.
But it’s not just about putting the recommendations into place.
“We’re looking to learn further and make sure nothing like this ever happens again,” said university athletic director Damon Evans.
The two separate reports found university athletic trainers failed to recognize and properly treat McNair’s symptoms in time, and the football program had fostered an abusive culture, largely due to a lack of organizational structure and oversight.
Among the steps the university has taken is making cold water immersion tubs available at every practice, updating emergency action plans and having “trauma bags” — medical kits packed with thermometers, oxygen masks, tanks and other supplies — immediately on hand, said David Klossner, the university’s director of sports performance.
Evans said members of an athletic medical review board — consisting of surgeons, psychiatrists and doctors from other disciplines — would be announced in the coming weeks. That board, which will convene in the next few months, will be aimed at examining student health from a medical perspective.
Rod Walters, the sports medicine consultant who led the first investigation into the circumstances regarding McNair’s death, said he would be advising that board.
“We just want to try and give as much feedback as possible,” Walters said. “The staff has been great so far as embracing those things.”
The university will also consider altering its athletic health care system to put it under the supervision of the University of Maryland Medical School in Baltimore. Currently, university athletic trainers are under the purview of this university.
In August, The Washington Post reported that university President Wallace Loh rejected a similar proposal from Evans’ predecessor, Kevin Anderson, in 2017.
Evans said an advisory group would make its recommendation on possible changes to athletic health care in the coming months, at which point the university will make its final decision.
Walters’ report found trainers didn’t use cold water immersion — which has a 100 percent success rate at treating heatstroke when administered promptly — when McNair fell ill, as they feared he would drown. No immersion tanks were present on the scene, and the heatstroke treatment options on hand were “inadequate,” the report said.
Last month, defensive back Raymond Boone had low blood sugar during a workout and fell ill. Even though Boone didn’t have a heat-related illness, the staff’s “first instinct” was to put him in an ice bath, associate athletic director Colleen Sorem said.
“That’s one we’ve really focused on,” associate athletic director Colleen Sorem said. “That’s something everyone has learned and has been trained on very well.”
Boone was hospitalized as a precaution and released the next day.
In August, the athletic department established Terps Feedback, an online portal where athletes could report their concerns anonymously, Evans said. No player has used the portal yet, he added.
Among the recommendations from the second report discussed Wednesday was clarifying the reporting structure for the football team’s strength and conditioning coaches. All strength and conditioning coaches now report directly to Klossner, Evans said.
The investigation into the team’s culture found Evans and Sorem claimed then-strength and conditioning coach Rick Court reported to then-coach DJ Durkin, whereas Durkin and Anderson claimed Court was under Klossner’s supervision, which Klossner denied. The report also detailed several instances of abuse from Court.
“Reporting lines between football and the Athletics Department were blurred and inconsistent,” the report read. “Court was effectively accountable to no one, and the training staff went relatively unsupervised for extended periods.”
While members of the panel commended Evans and the university in their implementation of Walters’ recommendations, Kirwan said the commission would be seeking documentation to back up their assertions.
Football coach Mike Locksley said he welcomed the recommendations from the reports and would work to make sure they are adopted by the program.
“I knew I couldn’t take it lightly, due to the events of last season,” he said. “Every decision I’m gonna make, I’m gonna make as if it’s my own child.“