High-profile investigator Michael Glazier gave the University of Central Florida his ultimate endorsement Friday.
Glazier said after reviewing the Knights' football athletic training practices, he would feel comfortable having his son play at UCF.
The university's football training program is "rigorous but within the range normal to other Division I football programs," Glazier said in a report released at the conclusion of his investigation.
The report compiled by Glazier, a former NCAA investigator and attorney based in Kansas City, recommended that UCF improve communication between its athletic training staff and athletics department administrators, consider adding a fourth certified athletic trainer exclusively devoted to football and enhance its nutrition education and support for players.
UCF President John Hitt ordered the review after UCF running back Brandon Davis collapsed during a December workout. Davis' weeklong hospitalization following a workout came months after UCF freshman wide receiver Ereck Plancher died following an offseason workout.
School officials said Glazier offered UCF a discounted rate and ran up a bill of about $60,000 through the end of February. Glazier's investigation was limited to UCF's current training practices and did not include a review of the Plancher and Davis incidents. His work did not address specific injuries and health ailments, including the school's handling of athletes with the sickle-cell trait. An autopsy report indicated a sickle-cell trait episode contributed to Plancher's death.
Hitt defended the decision to omit the Plancher and Davis cases from Glazier's review.
"To go back in time to look at previous incidents was not our focus," he said. "We had already done a detailed analysis of each of those. The question was more what kind of program are we running. Is it safe? I was pretty sure it was, but I must say I'm not at all surprised by Mike's finding. But I am gratified by them to see that the faith I had in the program was well-put."
Glazier and Hitt noted that similar incidents have occurred at other schools and weren't necessarily a sign of problems within those programs.
"When we talk to players and we talk to their parents, ... they're very positive about the treatment their sons received in the football program," Hitt said. "I think we've got a lot of evidence that says we have a very sound program. Now, was there one very tragic incident? Was there another troubling incident? Yes, but that is not necessarily the result of running a bad program. I think the audit we had done of our existing program bears that out."
Davis was one of 77 football players Glazier said he interviewed for the report, but the attorney declined to disclose what Davis said.
Glazier spoke with UCF coaches, trainers and other support staff for the review. Glazier also interviewed their counterparts at a variety of other schools to get an understanding of standard practices applied by other Division I programs. He declined to identify other schools he contacted for information, saying he spoke with them on the condition their comments would be confidential.
Glazier wrote in the conclusion of his report that UCF's football training practices are "more than accurate and are functioning within industry standards."
The report states UCF coaches, trainers and members of the athletic director's staff show a commitment to athletes' well-being, and head athletic trainer Mary Vander Heiden is "highly conscious of her responsibility for the health and physical well-being of athletes." Glazier wrote UCF Coach George O'Leary is respectful of decisions made by the sports medicine staff. He also praised UCF for slowly easing new athletes into the football conditioning program and for having a certified athletic trainer at every workout, including offseason conditioning drills.
O'Leary said he was pleased but not surprised by Glazier's findings.
"It validates what we're doing, and we'll continue to move on with the program that we run and try to improve it with Mike's suggestions and recommendations for the future," O'Leary said.
Glazier said the athletic training staff had two major concerns — breakdown in communication with the athletic department staff and gaps in the nutrition program.
UCF officials issued statements with inaccurate information immediately after Plancher's death and Davis' collapse, fueling speculation about potential problems within the program.
"The communication issues, if there are any, they didn't have to do with student welfare," Glazier said. "It's more communication from the sports medicine group to the athletics administration. There were certain things that happened that they didn't hear about right away."
He added that communication could be improved by both sides.
UCF does all of its workouts in the morning, but it does not have a mandatory breakfast program.
Glazier said there is some concern athletes don't make it a priority to eat before the workouts and are in danger of having problems during workouts, because they either are dehydrated or have a low energy level.
Hitt and Athletics Director Keith Tribble said most of the recommendations are not big budget items, and the school will work to implement them.
"This is just a report that confirms what we already knew — that our program is doing the things it should be doing," Tribble said. "Now there are recommendations on how we can get better. That's what we're going to try to do."
Iliana Limón's Knights Notepad blog on UCF sports can be read at OrlandoSentinel.com/knightsnotepad, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Online Interviews, video and photos from Friday's discussion at OrlandoSentinel.com/sports.