Thursday, November 14, 2019
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U.Md. president to step down over athletic scandal

Wallace D Loh announced on Tuesday that he plans to resign as president of the University of Maryland at College Park, after steering the university to “calmer waters” in the wake of a far-reaching athletics scandal involving the death of a college football player in June.

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Jordan McNair, 19, was the offensive lineman who died two weeks after he suffered a heat stroke from what was reportedly an exhausting workout, held under the supervision of football coach DJ Durkin and with the apparent approval of the school’s athletic director, Damon Evans.

It also appears that Mr Durkin will leave the embattled university. Mr Evans will keep his job, however, at least for now, as the university’s board makes Mr Loh the scapegoat for an athletics program that has been plagued with reports of an abusive environment.

The involvement of the university’s Board of Regents in a personnel decision such as this—whether to keep or fire staff or coaches from the athletics departments—is irregular. Gov Larry Hogan of Maryland has called on lawmakers and others to take a more careful look at the events that transpired over this incident.

Suggesting this incident shows university presidents have all the responsibility but too little authority to rein in abuses in athletics is simply stating the obvious. Yet Mr Loh joins a growing list of university presidents who have been pushed out by big-name sports:

  • H Holden Thorp, Univ of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (2010)
  • Graham B Spanier, Pennsylvania State Univ, University Park (2011)
  • James R Ramsey, Univ of Louisville (2015)
  • Timothy M Wolfe, Univ of Missouri system (2015)
  • Kenneth W Starr, Baylor Univ (2016)

But beyond what lawmakers and governors can do, football scholarships are run by universities and universities are run by their Boards of Regents, which apparently decided initially in this case to keep its football coach. “We believe that Coach Durkin has been unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department,” James Brady, the regents’ chairman, said Tuesday. “While he bears some responsibility, it is not fair to place all of it at his feet.”

His remarks reflected an awareness of the “disarray” in which the university now finds its athletic program, but the governor seems to echo the public’s concern that the university’s board has failed to exert principled leadership for an emotionally raw campus that remains in grief over the death of its football player.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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