After five years spent bearding the Nittany Lions, Bob Boland says he is both “honored” to have been and “very glad” to no longer be Penn State’s Athletic Integrity Officer.
“It has a shelf life,” Boland told Sportico in his first media interview about the college sports compliance job he took over in July 2017, after spending nearly two decades teaching sports management and law at Ohio University and NYU.
Boland, who has also worked as a practicing attorney and sports agent, says he conducted around 50 “significant reviews” for Penn State, on athletics department-related issues that included student misconduct, coaching misconduct, Title IX and academic integrity. The school has since named an interim replacement and announced its plans to conduct a national search for Boland’s permanent successor.
A Penn State spokesperson says the school has continued to find “great merit in the position,” as a means towards “increased accountability, enhanced compliance and adherence to ethical conduct.”
Having departed the post last month, Boland is eager to dispense with a number of the intuitions and insights he quietly racked up during his half-decade in Happy Valley, fulfilling a position he believes should exist at every major college sports school in the country.
Penn State’s AIO role derived from the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal; it was at first mandated by the consent decree the university entered into with the NCAA and Big Ten Conference. Boland was the second person to permanently hold the title, but the first to do so after the mandate expired in August 2017.
Over the course of several hours of interviews, he praised the university for maintaining the position, but also took Penn State to task for having the work conducted almost entirely in secret.
“The do-over I would like is if there was some public reporting of this role,” Boland said. “I came to Penn State without really looking into that—that would be my mistake, on some level.”
Despite this, Boland kept mum on any of the specific investigations he worked on, citing either legal protections or personal discretion.
Teeming with metaphors about the multibillion-dollar business of college sports, Boland likens D-I athletic departments to the large locomotives seen barreling down the tracks in the old silent films. As the athletic integrity officer, he felt his job was to rescue the damsel (“or dog or cow—whatever is tied to the track”) in distress.
“It’s not that the train is bad,” Boland said. “In essence, it takes on a force of its own and I think university presidents around the country have found that to be true. The number of crises in and around athletics around the country, since Penn State and Sandusky, have accelerated. They’re going to be more, they are going to come quicker, and they are going to be more costly.”
Indeed, even Penn State’s once-unprecedented settlement payment to Sandusky’s victims ($109 million) has since been trumped by the half-billion dollars both Michigan State and Michigan paid out to the victims of Larry Nassar and Robert Anderson.
Boland says whatever he does next—he’s teaching spring semester courses on pro athlete representation and collective bargaining at Penn State, and writing a book on college athlete NIL—he plans to advocate for more schools to hire their own athletic integrity officers.
Rutgers, which has faced a string of athletic department scandals over the last decade, is the only other Division I institution known to support a similar on-campus position dedicated to athletics oversight but independent from the athletic department’s reporting structure.
“Unfortunately, you need a predicate, probably some sort of crisis to do it,” said Regis Becker, who was the inaugural director of Penn State’s Ethics and Compliance program and served as Boland’s boss before leaving in 2018. “It is a difficult role and it leads to necessary friction between athletic administration and (compliance).”
Aside from its moral imperative, Boland said the position will save schools “a ton of money.” For a full-time slot that he says paid him a “comfortable salary” of between $150,000 and $200,000 per year, “it allows for the reasonable investigation of things before they get really bad—before (schools) decide to spend $500,000 or $1 million to send it to a law firm to investigate.”
Boland points to LSU’s firing last year of its $9 million-per-year head football coach Ed Orgeron, after he was accused of failing to take action on a sexual harassment allegation made against his star running back, Darrius Guice. The school paid Orgeron $16 million to buy him out of his remaining contract.
“He could have had a version of me on his staff who would report everything,” said Boland.
In response to a ballooning Title IX scandal, LSU beefed up and autonomized its Title IX office while creating a new athletic department position, deputy AD for leadership and strategy, which reports directly to its athletic director.
“The conclusions in the Husch Blackwell report did not disclose any concerted conspiracy to cover up athletics issues similar to Penn State,” an LSU spokesperson told Sportico, referring to the outside law firm it hired to conduct its Title IX review. “What we learned…was that there were fundamental problems in the resources and functioning of our Title IX office and how it handled complaints regardless of where they originated.”
In the wake of the Nassar scandal, Michigan State created an Office of Audit, Risk and Compliance, which has oversight authority over athletics. An MSU spokesperson says that even though the school has not created a specific administrative position dedicated to athletics oversight, “we have improved and changed many processes and procedures surrounding how our athletes are cared for.”
While extolling Penn State’s model, Boland says his now-former employer could still improve the job by making it far more transparent. Some of its opacity owes to Pennsylvania’s freedom of information law, which, even following the Sandusky scandal, still exempts Penn State (as well as Pittsburgh and Temple) from most public record requests.
Still, Boland argues Penn State could voluntarily disclose many of its athletic integrity officer’s findings, which it has thus far declined to do, not infrequently at its own public relations peril.
Boland first learned of the school’s cloak and dagger approach during “a fairly benign situation,” where he determined that the athletics department was in the clear of what it had been publicly accused of. After writing up his conclusions, he inquired about how he should go about publicizing them, only to be told “we don’t do that.”
“I don’t think it undermined the independence” of the job, Boland said, “but it may have inhibited the success of the role…Every institution should want as much transparency as they can offer.”
Steven Marino, the lawyer for former Penn State football team doctor Scott Lynch, who sued the university for workplace retaliation, says the lack of public reporting has made the athletic integrity officer job a “farce.”
In 2019, Lynch sued Penn State, claiming he had been removed from his athletics department role after complaining internally about medical interference from head football coach James Franklin. Prior to filing his civil suit, Lynch brought his concerns to Boland, who opened up an investigation and produced a draft report, which Lynch later attempted to subpoena.
According to Marino, Boland had indicated to Lynch that at least some of his findings were in the doctor’s favor. However, as the university successfully argued before a state court judge, Boland investigation was performed in concert with the university counsel’s office, which put “the entirety” of his writings under attorney-client privilege.
“If Penn State is really concerned about transparency,” Marino said in a telephone interview last week, “why would they hide behind the attorney-client privilege?”
In a court affidavit, Boland acknowledged that when adverse litigation was anticipated, he would consult with the university’s in-house lawyers and proceed under the assumption that his work would be privileged. The judge ruled in favor of Penn State, which had already been dismissed from the case as a defendant.
Citing confidentiality requirements, Boland declined to comment on the Lynch matter other than to say that he holds the physician, who remains employed by the university, in “high regards.”
Broadly speaking, Boland says that he had, throughout his five years, repeatedly advocated for the university to create greater medical independence within athletics. Following the heat-related death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair in 2018, Boland says he recommended that Penn State move its athletic trainers to a reporting structure entirely separate from the athletic department.
“It never happened, but I keep recommending that,” said Boland.
Through its spokesperson, Penn State declined to comment on Boland’s recommendations or the Lynch case.
Boland’s departure comes amid a wave of leadership turnover at Penn State, which includes the announced retirements of athletic director Sandy Barbour and president Eric Barron, both of whom served in their roles for the entirety of Boland’s tenure. (Barbour did not respond to an interview request.)
Boland estimates that a little more than half of his job was investigatory, with most of the investigations triggered by parental complaints.
“Parents are particularly more aggressive and are growing more aggressive in that space, and one of the challenges of that is, does that ever obscure you from the really bad stuff, to some degree?” he asked. “If you have 10 complaints open, are they all equal, or is one that is not getting as much attention the really bad one?”
Boland said he “grieved” whenever his findings completely exonerated the university, for fear he might have missed something. This scrupulousness, he lamented, was something “nobody in the outside world would see.”
Mostly, the public learned of Boland’s work only in the abstract. In October 2020, Penn State head men’s basketball coach Pat Chambers resigned after a former player alleged he had made a racially derogative comment during a team meeting. Boland and the school’s Affirmative Action Office jointly conducted the internal investigation, which was mentioned by Barbour in her public acceptance of Chambers’ resignation, but never released. (Chambers did not respond to a request for comment sent to a spokesperson at Florida Gulf Coast, where he accepted a head coaching position last month.)
Boland remains “guardedly” confident that Penn State will maintain the position in the years to come, but he acknowledges that the forces of apathy are strong.
“For universities, compliance offices and compliance, ethics and integrity functions are the hardest to create and the first to be diminished,” said Boland. “They are only cost-saving centers. They aren’t cost-removal centers.”
(This story has been corrected in the 32nd paragraph to clarify that Penn State athletic trainers report to the athletic department, while team physicians do not.)