Penn State Football Lawsuit Raises Injury Report Questions

Former Penn State University football team doctor, Dr. Scott A. Lynch, is suing the university and football coach James Franklin. Lynch filed the suit in Dauphin County Court on Aug. 23. In it, he claims Franklin repeatedly tried to influence his decisions on whether injured players were able to play.

Lynch removed from two PSU roles

Lynch served as an orthopedic physician for the football team since February 2013. In August 2014, the university named him director of athletic medicine. He was removed from both roles in March 2018.

Lynch says his complaints about Franklin’s alleged interference caused Penn State officials to remove him from his two posts. He is seeking over $50,000 in damages from the university.

Suit alleges interference and false narrative

The lawsuit states that Lynch “refused to relent to the attempts of Franklin to influence and interfere with his (Lynch’s) medical management and return-to-play decisions related to student-athletes.”

He reported the alleged infractions to the university, Hershey Medical Center and the following individuals:

  •  Penn State Health Chairman of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation Dr. Kevin P. Black
  • Penn State Athletic Integrity Officer Robert Boland
  •  Athletic Director Sandy Barbour
  • Senior Associate Athletic Director Charmelle Green

The lawsuit alleges that the group conspired to create “pretextual narrative” or a cover story for retaliating against him. The suit claims they met to create a false narrative that Penn State wanted an orthopedic doctor based in State College instead of the Hershey area.

Penn State no stranger to medical drama

This is the second time since 2013 Penn State football’s medical staff grabbed headlines. In 2013, Lynch replaced longtime team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli. Then, Sports Illustrated followed up with a story criticizing the team’s medical operations.

Bill O’Brien, who was head coach at Penn State at the time, called the story “preposterous.”

Sebastianelli returned as Penn State’s director of athletic medicine in March.

Former players defend Franklin

Penn State Health, which is also named as a defendant, issued the following statement in a Penn Live story:

“In February 2019, Penn State Health administrators decided to change leadership for athletic medicine and the delivery of care for Intercollegiate Athletics. This transition was completed with the best interests of student-athletes in mind, given the increasing complexity and growing demands of sports medicine, as well as health care in general. While we reject Dr. Lynch’s claims and will vigorously defend our program and its representatives, we remain grateful to him for his five years as director of athletic medicine for Intercollegiate Athletics and for his continued association with Penn State Health.”

A number of former players including New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, Oakland Raiders linebacker Jason Cabinda, and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley defended Franklin.

NCAA addresses sports betting and in injuries

With the legalization of sports betting up to twelve states, information and transparency about injuries are vital. The NCAA Board of Governors addressed the increased access to legalized sports betting and its injury reports. On Aug. 7 the NCAA Board of Governors made a few important announcements.

  • Standardized injury reports will not be implemented across college football this season after the NCAA explored the possibility in response to the rise of legalized sports betting.
  • It still supports the association’s rules prohibiting athletes and school administrators from wagering on sports or providing information to people associated with gambling. However, the board concluded an injury or availability report across college football is not viable.
  • The board also encouraged more education on gambling for athletes.

An ad hoc committee on sports wagering studied the possibility of teams publicly disclosing whether players would be available for games. The possibility of creating a standardized injury report, similar to the NFL, came from concern that legalized gambling might provide more temptation for bettors to seek injury information from athletes or other team personnel. But, even calling it an injury report was problematic for the NCAA because of federal laws that safeguard student and patient privacy.

NFL injury reporting policy

The NFL injury report was born into requirement as a result of the scandalous 1946 NFL Championship between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants.

The policy is in place to ensure that all teams provide completely accurate information about every player’s availability.  

The injury report policy consists of three sections:

  • Practice report
  • Game status report
  • In-game injuries

A player could appear on the report under one of three designations:

  • Out
  • Doubtful
  • Questionable

The NFL injury report remained largely unchanged throughout its history. However, in 2016, the NFL removed “probable”.

According to NFL Operations, the “reporting process is of paramount importance in maintaining the integrity of the game.”