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Review: Air Force Academy athletics makes some improvements, but morale an issue

October 15, 2014 Updated: October 15, 2014 at 1:10 pm
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photo - Air Force Academy football players line up for drills Thursday, July 31, 2014 for the first day of football practice for the 2014 season. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
Air Force Academy football players line up for drills Thursday, July 31, 2014 for the first day of football practice for the 2014 season. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

The Air Force Academy's athletic department got a passing grade in an inspector general's review of programs that followed a player misconduct scandal.

The rating of "effective" is essentially a C on the Air Force's grading scale. The program earned accolades for hosting events and training cadets but was knocked for problems managing discipline and low morale.

"This inspection validates some of the areas where we know we can improve," academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson said in a statement. "However, it also highlights there have been significant gains over the past year and that there are 
program strengths and a number of areas in the department that are effectively meeting their mission."

Academy officials received the report a week ago and had been silent on its contents.

While Johnson had pledged transparency on issues within the athletic department, the academy refused Tuesday to release the full report. It has been reluctant to answer questions about the review Johnson ordered in August amid a Gazette investigation into athlete misconduct and oversight of teams. Officials at the school couldn't be reached for comment and questions Tuesday on the statement, released shortly after 5 p.m.

While the department got a passing grade, it's well below the "outstanding" mark that commanders strive to achieve. The academy didn't release grades in individual assessment categories but gave general comments about strengths and weaknesses noted in the report.

"Some of the department's strengths and best practices included the fact that the department excels in executing its mission," the statement said. "The inspection highlighted that all cadets are afforded a competitive experience in a physically demanding environment and department employees exceptionally plan, orchestrate and successfully execute hundreds of events annually."

However, the statement said, the department suffers from low morale attributed to budget constraints, and "the inspection identified a culture in which members had lost a sense of common belonging."

The IG report also recommended improvements to management of administrative and personnel actions, the statement said.

Last week, the academy's athletic director, Hans Mueh, announced he will step down months before his planned retirement date. The academy said Mueh's move to retire early, announced a day after the review was presented to commanders, has nothing to do with the athletic department review.

Athlete conduct issues included allegations that surfaced after a Dec. 2, 2011, party in Manitou Springs. A cadet confidential informant told agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations that cadets used drugged rum to incapacitate women for sex.

Those claims led to "Operation Gridiron," which resulted in the court-martial convictions of three athletes. Five more cadets received administrative punishment that resulted in their dismissal, a half-dozen cadets resigned and three were kicked out for unrelated misconduct.

The academy said the IG's review turned up nothing that merits an investigation into wrongdoing.

"Nothing rose to the threshold that would require a follow-on legal investigation," the academy said.

In September, Mueh described athletic department shortcomings and successes to the school's Board of Visitors.

"We're good at stamina and courage and teamwork and self-confidence and self-discipline and the indomitable will to win," Mueh told the board, which advises the Defense Department on academy issues. "The area we didn't focus on enough is this culture of commitment and climate of respect."

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