Drake Group Chastises the NCAA On the Death of Maryland Football Player McNair and Persistent Failures of Governance


For immediate release
Fritz Polite, President
The Drake Group
(407) 758-0811

Drake Group Chastises the NCAA On the Death of Maryland Football Player McNair and Persistent Failures of Governance

NEW HAVEN, CONN. – The Drake Group, a national organization of college faculty and others whose mission is to defend academic integrity in higher education from the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports, has released a position statement today that criticizes the NCAA for the failure of its member institutions to protect college athletes from injury, abuse, and academic exploitation.

Drake Group President Fritz Polite, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at Shenandoah University (VA), pointed to the Association’s persistent failure to exercise the governance responsibility for which it was created: “The NCAA was created in 1906 because of deaths in collegiate football and a threat by the President of the United States to ban college football. The NCAA and many similar state and national athletic governance organizations are running away from this responsibility because of they fear legal liability for the failures of member institutions to protect athletes. The Drake Group believes this position is unconscionable.”

In litigation, the NCAA has directly stated that its member institutions are exclusively responsible for protecting college athletes from concussions.[1] Similarly, the NCAA has left the issues of policing academic fraud (University of North Carolina) [2], sexual abuse of athletes by athletics staff (Nassar at Michigan State) [3] coaches failing to report the violent conduct of staff members (Meyer at Ohio State) [4] and verbally and physically abusive coaches (Durkin at the University of Maryland [5] and Rice at Rutgers [6]) to those same institutions. The NCAA is not alone in ignoring its governance responsibilities. Similarly, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and its national sport governing bodies (NGBs) have failed to protect athletes from sexual abuse.[7] Recently, the Florida State High School Association (FHSAA) refused to adopt the recommendations of its expert Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to require high schools to adopt industry standards designed to protect athletes from heat-related illnesses because it feared such a mandate would expose it to legal liability.[8]

The recent death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair reflects the NCAA’s failure to lead in preventing heat-related injuries. Polite observed, “The McNair death should not have happened.

Each year the NCAA publishes its Sports Medicine Handbook,[9] which identifies standard practices that would protect the health of college athletes, but it does NOT require its member institutions to follow those practices. Why? Because it fears that it will be held legally liable if it does not enforce such rules. Athletic governance organizations must recognize that member institutions may seek unfair advantage in pursuit of championship seasons, increased revenues, and favorable publicity.

They must also understand that powerful forces on the campus level (prominent trustees, charismatic winning coaches, etc.) may pressure the institution to turn a blind eye to athlete abuse or exploitation in the quest for athletic supremacy. The Drake Group maintains that the basic function of the NCAA and other athletic governance associations must be to make and enforce rules that enable members to overcome such influences. The NCAA should establish, as a condition of membership, adherence to its published sports medicine guidelines. All national athletic governance organizations should have Codes of Conduct applicable to coaches and staff that protects athletes from coach/staff misconduct.

Expecting member institutions to self-police is a dereliction of duty with regard to the basic responsibilities of a national athletic governance organization.”

The death of Jordan McNair has also highlighted an allegedly abusive football culture at Maryland.

Part of the “culture” issue is whether proper oversight and decision-making by licensed medical and health specialists – doctors and certified athletic trainers – trumps head coach authority. A related matter is whether the NCAA should mandate such medical staff independence and should permit college athletes to obtain second opinions from medical personnel not employed by the institution.

The Drake Group strongly supports giving preeminence over athlete-health issues to trained medical providers and allowing athletes to seek second opinions from independent doctors and athletic trainers.

Given these examples and circumstances, The Drake Group again calls upon the leadership of the NCAA to exercise its governance responsibilities to protect the health and welfare of student athletes and the academic integrity of higher education.

[1] Fuhrmeister, C. “The NCAA denies that it has a legal duty to protect student-athletes.”
SBNation (December 19, 2013). Retrieve at: https://www.sbnation.com/collegefootball/2013/12/19/5227480/ncaa-concussion-lawsuits-derek-sheely
[2] See McCants et al v. The National Collegiate Athletic Association et al, No. 1:2015cv00176 –
Document 42 (M.D.N.C. 2016) Retrieve at: https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/northcarolina/ncmdce/1:2015cv00176/68306/42/
[3] Trister, N. “NCAA finds no rules violations in Nasser scandal”. ABCNews.com (August 30,
2018) Retrieve at: https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/wireStory/michigan-state-ncaa-finds-violationsnassar-scandal-57501156
[4] Rittenberg, A. “FAQ: What led to Urban Meyer’s 3-game suspension?” ESPN.com (August
22, 2018) Retrieve at: http://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/24265385/ohio-state-faq-knowurban-meyer-zach-smith-investigation
[5] Maese, R. and R. Stubbs. “Maryland places DJ Durkin on administrative leave amid reports of
football program’s toxic culture.” WashingtonPost.com (August 11, 2018) Retrieve at:
[6] Eder, S. and K. Zernike. “Rutgers leaders are faulted on abusive coach. NYTimes.com (April
3, 2013) Retrieve at: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/sports/ncaabasketball/rutgers-firesbasketball-coach-after-video-surfaces.html
[7] Axon, R. “Athletes critical of USOC, sports federations in failing to prevent, stop sexual abuse”
USA Today (April 18, 2018). Retrieve at:
[8] Sofflan, S. “High Schools: FHSAA refusing to change illness safety equipment.” News Press.
June 6, 2018. Retrieve at: https://www.news-press.com/story/sports/high-school/2018/06/06/heatstroke-deaths-fhsaa-refusing-advice-safety-medical-experts/675820002/
[9] The National Collegiate Athletic Association. 2014-15 NCAA Sports Medicine Handbook.
NCAA: Indianapolis, (August 2014)IN. Retrieve at: http://www.ncaapublications.com/searchadv.aspx?IsSubmit=true&SearchTerm=MEDICINE



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