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O'Brien, staff diligent with rules

Bill O'Brien says he tries to check his email about every half hour. He's usually not looking for well-wishes from fans -- though he receives plenty of them -- as much as he is checking for correspondence from a man with an office in the Bryce Jordan Center. And it's not athletic director David Joyner.

O'Brien has frequent written and verbal correspondence with the compliance office.

"Anytime we have a question -- and this is something that we stress to our staff -- a question about something, whether it's about our own players, what they can do in the summer time or whether it has to do with prospects, we call Matt Stolberg, our compliance person," O'Brien said. "He answers us pretty quickly on what the rule is."

When the NCAA levied sanctions on Penn State's football program last July, O'Brien's job got a lot more complicated. He and his staff rely on Stolberg, who has been the athletic department's associate athletic director for compliance since 2010, to keep things clear.

"The PSU football staff is very diligent with respect to asking our office about how the rules apply before taking action," Stolberg said a recent email interview. "Compliance also feels completely comfortable asking the football coaches or staff about something that appears to be problematic. They are professionals and they know that sometimes there are bumps in the road and hard questions need to be asked.

"It all starts with Coach O’Brien setting an appropriate tone for compliance within the program, which he has done as effectively as any coach I have even been associated with."

Stolberg and the compliance staff, which also includes director of compliance Andy Banse, hold six one-hour meetings per year with the football coaches, graduate assistants and operations staff. Topics typically covered include official recruiting visits, playing and practice limits and/or new legislation, enforcement and case studies.

"They get up in front of us and it's like a class; it feels like a college class," O'Brien said. "They go through either rule changes or things we should be aware of that maybe have to do with that time period in the year, whatever it is, and I don't believe we're required to do that necessarily, maybe we are, but we do it. It's been very helpful and become a very healthy relationship between the compliance department at Penn State and our football staff."

At least two of those meetings have lasted three hours, O'Brien said during the Coaches Caravan. The coaches have taken a proactive approach when it comes to compliance.

"This football staff has been highly engaged in these sessions and they always have lots of strong questions," Stolberg said. "Most importantly, they understand the value of compliance and education and have made it a significant priority as evidenced by the fact that they sat in educational meetings with us the Monday after the regular season ended as well as the week after the spring game when there were many other activities that they could have been engrossed in."

Coaches from each of Penn State's other varsity sports are asked to attend similar meetings with compliance; some on a per-sport basis, others in groups of coaches from several sports, Stolberg said.

Because football's rules are so often changed, though, and because of the unique situation created for Penn State's program by the sanctions, the contact between the football office and compliance -- not just the meetings but the regular emails -- is more frequent than it is with Penn State's other sports teams.

"There was a significant amount of dialogue in the weeks after the sanctions came out," Stolberg said. "It has settled down some now, but some areas will be hot topics that require significant attention weekly, if not daily, moving forward. For example, the compliance staff members who oversee financial aid are talking with football on a very regular basis in an effort to ensure that the initial and overall counter limits are projected well into the future."

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