The University of Maryland is in the midst of transitioning its athletic trainers from within the athletic department to an independent unit in the campus health center, a significant change that is the last of 20 recommendations given to Maryland officials last year following an external investigation into the death of former offensive lineman Jordan McNair from heatstroke.
The announcement comes almost one year after McNair was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was admitted with a body temperature of 106 degrees following a May 29 workout. He died on June 13, 2018.
"This has been a year of reflection for our department as we remember Jordan McNair," athletic director Damon Evans said on Thursday. "We've also been focused on implementing all of the recommendations from the external review and taking further steps to safeguard the health and well-being of our student-athletes, which has always been a primary focus for us."
The university will lead a national search for a head team physician who will oversee all of Maryland athletics and be a university employee within the Division of Student Affairs in the University Health Center.
Evans said the university is moving "as expeditiously as possible" but acknowledged it could take months to make the hire. Meanwhile, he said, the current care will continue.
Maryland currently operates the way most other programs in the Power 5 do -- with the athletic training staff supervised by a physician and employees of the athletic department. This change will put Maryland in what it hopes will be a trend-setting group, as only a handful of Power 5 schools give the sports medicine staff complete autonomy from the athletic department.
Dr. Matt Leiszler, head football team physician at Notre Dame, was a member of a panel that advised Maryland officials on the decision. He said Maryland's change to an autonomous model is consistent with recommendations that have come from the NCAA.
"As athletic departments are moving forward, I do anticipate this is going to be a trend, and I'm really pleased that the University of Maryland is leading this trend within college athletics," he said. "It is a little bit unique at this point. I think it's going to serve the University of Maryland really well. I think it's going to continue to improve and really continue the excellent care for the student-athletes at the University of Maryland, which is the priority."
Last August, the university hired Rod Walters, a former SEC trainer and head of Walters Inc., a sports medicine group, to investigate whether the school's medical staff followed the proper protocol in its treatment of McNair. The report, which was released last September, said there was a delay of 34 minutes between when McNair first started cramping during the May 29 workout to the time he was taken off the field. It took 1 hour, 7 minutes to call 911 from the onset of symptoms and another 32 minutes before he left in an ambulance to the hospital.
By March, Maryland had implemented 18 of the recommendations from Walters Inc., and it has since created the review board for athlete health; the supervision model for athletic trainers was the final part.
Among the other changes are having cold water immersion available at all practices and having emergency plans posted at sites and taught to staff.
"We felt that student-athlete health care should live outside of intercollegiate athletics with the appropriate structures in place for the staff to be administrative compliant, NCAA compliant, as well as health care compliant," said Walters. "This can be a university health center or any other independent unit of athletics. We felt this position should have a direct reporting line to the president of the university."