The NCAA’s longtime chief legal officer was appointed to the board of a company that wound up administering a multimillion-dollar concussion monitoring program that emerged from athlete litigation against the NCAA.
Donald Remy, who worked at the NCAA for a decade, left the association last year to take a position in the Biden administration as deputy secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs. As part of his confirmation to the VA post, Remy, a former Army captain, was required to submit a detailed financial disclosure form with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.
On the form, Remy revealed that during his tenure with the NCAA, he served on the board of directors for The Garretson Resolution Group—a North Carolina-based company providing lawsuit settlement services—from September 2016 until January 2019, when GRG was purchased by the global legal tech firm Epiq.
Two months prior to Remy’s addition to its board, GRG was approved by a federal judge to initiate and manage a 50-year NCAA concussion monitoring program, which emerged as part of a $75 million settlement with former college athletes who endured head trauma playing sports.
The class-action litigation was consolidated from a number of individual concussion lawsuits that had been filed by athletes against the NCAA. The settlement went into effect in November 2019, and the medical monitoring program began in early 2020.
“During my time with the NCAA, I properly disclosed and received approval for all board positions, including Garretson Resolution Group (GRG) and recused myself from any GRG/NCAA matters,” Remy told Sportico in a statement. “Furthermore, I submitted all required public financial disclosure reports as part of the Congressional confirmation process.”
Although some media outlets took note of other financial information Remy divulged as part of being confirmed to the VA’s second-highest-ranking post—such as the fact he is due a seven-figure severance pay from the NCAA over the next few years—the GRG connection has flown under the radar.
In 2009, prior to taking his job with the NCAA, Remy was forced to withdraw his nomination as general counsel of the Army after failing to properly disclose to the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had worked as chief compliance officer for Fannie Mae. The troubled, government-backed mortgage lender had just played a starring role in the Great Recession. Remy later acknowledged the “mistake” in written testimony to Congress, but he was compelled to remove himself from consideration. The next year, he joined the NCAA as its top in-house lawyer.
Remy did not directly respond to questions this week about whether his involvement with the legal services company constituted a conflict of interest, saying he “defer(red) further inquiries to the NCAA and GRG.”
Michelle Brutlag Hosick, an NCAA spokesperson, reiterated that Remy had apprised the organization of his GRG role prior to accepting it and was subsequently recused from “discussing any matters with GRG related to the NCAA.”
As its top in-house attorney, Remy on several occasions spoke on the association’s behalf about the concussion litigation.
“While we are pleased the court has provided a preliminary pathway to provide significant resources for the medical monitoring of student-athletes who may suffer concussions, we are still examining the conditions placed on preliminary approval,” Remy said in a January 2016 public statement, following the court’s preliminary approval of the settlement.
In a telephone interview, Matthew Garretson, GRG’s founder, says that there was no significance to the timing of Remy’s board appointment in relation to its NCAA settlement work. Describing Remy as a “buddy,” Garretson says the two had known each other for at least a decade prior to Remy becoming a GRG director.
“GRG began speaking with Remy in 2015, and his work at the NCAA was never raised,” Garretson said.
In 2012, GRG was purchased by Harvest Partners, a New York-based private equity firm. Subsequently, Garretson says, GRG brought aboard directors to serve as “the monitor between management and private equity…. They certainly don’t have any programmatic roles.”
Garretson says GRG board members were each paid the same “nominal” amount of a few thousand dollars per quarter; on his financial disclosure form, Remy listed the “board services” as one of two sources of annual income that provided him in excess of $5,000, the other being his NCAA employment.
Garretson insisted that, because of the nature of the monitor appointment process, there would have been no practical way for Remy to influence its hiring, nor its administrative work.
“The NCAA was not the decision-maker to hire GRG, nor its client,” said Garretson. “We could favor neither side, because the concussion testing (baseline assessment) protocol and dollar amounts were established in the settlement agreement and carried out by qualified independent medical professionals nationwide…. We were the administrator of that protocol and had no discretion to call ‘balls or strikes’ over any test outcomes.”
Dan Kurowski, an attorney representing the athlete plaintiffs, said in a statement that GRG (Epiq) has “fairly performed and met expectations under the settlement terms.” Kurowski did not respond to questions about whether the plaintiff lawyers were previously informed about Remy’s board position.
In April 2015, GRG told the federal court overseeing the NCAA’s concussion litigation settlement that it anticipated its fees for administering the program to run at least $8 million. In a joint status update filed this past December with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, lawyers for the NCAA and plaintiffs reported that 2,688 former college athletes had so far registered to participate in the program, of which 235 were deemed qualified to receive in-person medical evaluations.
The Garretson Resolution Group, founded in 1998, had previously been involved in a number of high-profile settlements, including those related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the World Trade Center disaster site.
In 2015, GRG was appointed to serve as the administrator in charge of making baseline assessments and handling lien resolutions as part of the NFL’s concussion settlement with its former players.
As of last week, the NFL program had registered over 20,000 class members and paid monetary awards to nearly 1,400.
The NCAA’s monitoring program, meanwhile, has admittedly staggered out of the gate.
In the joint status report filed in December, the parties told the court that because former college athletes had been “slow to schedule appointments,” Epiq was continuing its “weekly outreach campaign.”
“The program administrator anticipates a higher percentage of Qualifying Class Members will schedule in-person medical evaluations over the coming months,” the court filing stated, “as more individuals are immunized against COVID-19 and as COVID-related restrictions are loosened across the country.”
(The story was updated to include background about Remy’s withdrawn nomination as Army general counsel in 2009.)