Dirks orders new investigation into Cal football’s strength, conditioning program

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UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks called for a new investigation Friday into the strength and conditioning program of Cal football amid criticism over a 2014 inquiry that cleared the program of wrongdoing.

That 2014 inquiry was conducted by investigators who had personal connections to Cal athletics staff and who interviewed students selected by athletic program administration, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Dirks’ move to launch a new probe into the strength and conditioning program came in response to a letter from the Berkeley Faculty Association, which requested that Dirks not renew Cal football strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington’s $150,000 yearly contract until a new investigation determined whether the coach took actions that contributed to two separate incidents of player harm.

The first incident occurred in 2013, when UC Berkeley freshman and Cal running back Fabiano Hale was injured in an altercation with one of his teammates. The other incident in 2014 saw campus junior and Cal football player Ted Agu die after a rigorous teamwide training run.

“We intend to identify and appoint an independent investigator to assess the current state of the program and the efficacy of the many changes we have made in recent years,” Dirks said in a letter to the Berkeley Faculty Association co-chairs. “We will also ask for and expect recommendations to address any gaps that may be found between our practices and best practices.”

According to one of the association’s co-chairs, campus sociology professor Michael Burawoy, the investigation will not assess the culpability of Harrington specifically, but is instead confined to evaluating the larger program. Burawoy said this decision not to focus on Harrington was “disappointing,” particularly in light of the fact that the campus admitted to negligence in Agu’s death in January of this year.

“If it is claimed that Harrington did nothing wrong, why did the university pay out $4.75 million after admitting negligence in the civil suit brought by Agu’s parents?” Burawoy said in an email.

Burawoy added that the move “suggests that the university is in thrall to its athletic department, or more precisely to the revenue it is supposed to bring.” He noted, however, that he was grateful the chancellor was “taking the matter seriously.”

The original 2014 “Tanji report” into the program cleared the program of wrongdoing in four separate areas, including the use of punitive and abusive practices during drills. The report did disclose that its investigators had ties to Cal athletics but added that “these relationships did not color the outcome of the requested investigation.”

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof confirmed that Dirks had ordered an investigation on the program and said it was expected to begin soon. He added, however, that many steps still need to take place before the investigation can be fully launched.

“We have to find an expert to do it, we have to see who’s available, we have to set up interviews,” Mogulof said. “So it’ll take some time.”

Check back for updates.

Logan Goldberg is the executive news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @logangoldberg.