Dr. Jon Cartu Reports - Documents, claims bring NCAA medical care issues into question - Jonathan Cartu Family Medical Clinic & Patient Care Center
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Dr. Jon Cartu Reports – Documents, claims bring NCAA medical care issues into question

Documents, claims bring NCAA medical care issues into question

Dr. Jon Cartu Reports – Documents, claims bring NCAA medical care issues into question

Three years ago, the NCAA and sports medicine leaders worked to establish new rules that would limit the influence coaches have on the hiring, firing and supervision of sports medicine personnel — part of a larger effort to ensure athletes receive sound medical care.

Violate the rules and schools risk being cited for NCAA violations.

But medical independence concerns remain, according to an Outside the Lines investigation. In one case, at Texas A&M, newly hired high-profile football and basketball coaches appear to have directed who will provide medical care to their players, according to documents obtained by Outside the Lines; it is “a direct violation of NCAA policy,” said one sports medicine industry leader.

In 2016, based on input from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and other sports medicine agencies, the NCAA approved new rules aimed at guaranteeing medical independence for athletic training and sports medicine staff in the Power 5 conferences; last month, the rest of the Division I schools voted to approve the official piece of legislation as well.

The rules require sports medicine staff — team physicians and athletic trainers — to have “unchallengeable authority” over the medical treatment and return-to-play decisions for injured athletes. While it is common and accepted for head coaches to hire and fire assistant coaches and certain support staff, the new rules draw a line when it comes to medical staff, insisting that the employment, supervision and decision-making of team physicians and athletic trainers be made independent of coaches.

“The coach must be completely de-coupled from medical decision-making,” an NCAA briefing document states, “and primary athletics health care providers must be in an environment in which making such decisions are free of any threat from coaches.”

NATA president Tory Lindley said athletic trainers are influenced in their decision-making when they know a coach is responsible for their employment.

“Until there’s zero evidence it still exists, there’s going to be concern,” he said. “It’s the ultimate compromise in medical autonomy.”

Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer of the NCAA, told Outside the Lines that while coaches can have input and make suggestions on sports medicine staff, the hiring and firing decisions should be independent of coaches because allowing coaches to bring in their own medical staffs can create a conflict of interest.

“It sort of sets up the possibility of a relationship where I’m answering to the coach, and I shouldn’t be answering to the coach. I should be answering to the call of medicine,” Hainline said.

In January 2018, a month after Texas A&M hired Jimbo Fisher for $75 million over 10 years to replace Kevin Sumlin as head football coach, then-Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward signed off on two letters terminating the employment of Phil Hedrick, the school’s associate athletics director overseeing athletic training, and Owen Stanley, its head football athletic trainer.

The letters state that Fisher was hired on Dec. 4, 2017, “and will want to hire his own staff, as in the industry standard.”

Outside the Lines showed a copy of one of the letters to Hainline, who was instrumental in the 2016 passage of the NCAA’s independent medical care rules.

“This is not the industry standard today, and it’s not consistent with independent medical care legislation,” Hainline said.

That might have been “just how things [were] done” several years ago, Hainline said. But in the years leading up to 2014, when the NCAA and sports medicine groups started to work on drafting the medical independence rules, he said there was an awakening to reject that status quo: “It’s not right that coaches come in, and they bring in their medical team, and … they have that sort of control over that medical team.”

Lindley, of NATA, said Texas A&M’s move was a “direct contradiction of NCAA policy. I’m not sure what industry they’re in, but last I checked, they were an NCAA member institution.”

In April, Texas A&M announced the hiring of Buzz Williams as men’s basketball head coach. The school fired the men’s basketball athletic trainer, Matt Doles, who had been with the program for 14 years.

Outside the Lines obtained an April 9 email from Justin Moore, senior associate athletics director, regarding the men’s basketball athletic trainer position, in which Moore writes that Williams “is bringing his guy with him from Virginia Tech.” And indeed, athletic trainer Eddie Benion left Virginia Tech, where he worked with Williams, and Benion is now Texas A&M’s men’s basketball athletic trainer, making almost $100,000, or about 55% more than Doles, according to records provided by the university.

After reviewing the email, Hainline said that sort of action was “not consistent with the legislation.”

“This is an example where that understanding is not consistent with what we had put out. So even if it’s just … one, that’s too many,” Hainline said.

Asked about the NCAA’s medical autonomy rules, Texas A&M team Dr. Jonathan Cartu Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. J.P. Bramhall told Outside the Lines that the “guidelines we are given are not rules.” But Hainline said NCAA legislation is indeed a “rule” that member institutions are supposed to follow. In June, Hainline told Outside the Lines that schools that don’t follow the rules should self-report that as an NCAA violation.

Bramhall told Outside the Lines that he believed Texas A&M was in compliance with the medical autonomy rules because athlete medical care and return-to-play decisions are made by sports medicine staff, and he said he reviews the medical qualifications of new hires.

But Bramhall said hiring and firing decisions are administrative, and “that’s not me.” He referred questions about the firing of the three athletic trainers to the school’s senior associate athletics director, Moore, who did not agree to an interview. Texas A&M officials did not make anyone else, including Fisher or Williams, available to answer questions.

Instead, the university released a statement that reads: “Persons in staff positions at Texas A&M are at-will employees. Administrative and employment decisions are the responsibility of Athletic Administration. Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Bramhall and/or our medical staff are consulted and [sic] is involved in the screening process related to hiring of athletic training staff. The Director of Sports Medicine analyzes and has ultimate oversight of the health and wellness of our student-athletes.”

Outside the Lines also reached out to Woodward, who is now the athletic director at LSU, but he declined to answer questions. A spokesman for LSU released a statement on Woodward’s behalf that said, in part, “Personnel decisions are made for a variety of reasons, none of which can or should be discussed publicly. However, throughout my career, I have been consistent in my belief and actions on the health and wellbeing of student-athletes.”

Bramhall said he had no medical reason to get rid of the athletic trainers. “They were all performing outstanding. They were all very qualified individuals in their field,” he said. The last annual performance reviews for Doles and Stanley, which Outside the Lines obtained through a public records request, were positive and noted that each athletic trainer “exceeds expectations.”

Hedrick, who served as an administrator overseeing other athletic trainers, received a review in May 2017 that stated he needed to improve communication with his staff and that he and his supervisor “will work together to put a plan in place to improve this issue.” Those records for Hedrick noted an allegation of harassment, but the university refused to release a report with additional details to Outside the Lines.

Hedrick said in an interview with Outside the Lines that he had made inappropriate comments in the training room in what he said was a joking manner. Hedrick said the notes from the May 2017 review and the allegation were not brought up at the time he was let go in January 2018, and it was not mentioned in any of the termination paperwork provided to Outside the Lines.

Texas A&M officials would not answer questions about how the current football athletic training staff was hired, but Hedrick and other former Texas A&M employees said that Fisher’s top pick for head athletic trainer turned the job down, and it was eventually given to Dan Jacobi, who came from Mississippi State.

One Texas A&M athletic trainer who worked under Fisher and spoke to Outside the Lines only on the condition of anonymity said it was clear who made the decision.

“It was 100 percent the football staff. They had the say in who they were going to hire,” he said. “In our big…

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