Handling of Nick Carovillano’s injury at the basis of Kevin Wilson’s eventual resignation
By Jordan Guskey
The broken young man sits in the same room Kevin Wilson recruited him in. He’s past the days when he needed assistance moving from the car into his house, but he still has trouble walking sometimes. Some days are worse than others.
The 6-foot-4, roughly 235-pound frame he had as a freshman defensive lineman at IU is already 45 pounds lighter. He supports his former teammates from afar and struggles with the fact he won’t suit up with them again.
Nick Carovillano’s football career wasn’t supposed to end this way. He never saw the field and finished without a college degree. It started with a back injury during a Sept. 2014 practice drill. IU trainers allegedly brushed off his complaints, decided not to examine him or barely did so at all and berated him as he struggled to walk.
The three herniated discs in his back still have yet to heal fully, and he’s still considering whether or not to have surgery.
“I believed what they were telling me, that I was soft,” Carovillano said. “I kept denying I was hurt. That’s the culture they created.”
As he and his dad, Dean, watched IU Athletics Director Fred Glass handle the press conference that announced Wilson’s resignation last week, the pair became agitated. “Philosophical differences” didn’t even scratch the surface of Carovillano’s experiences in his short time as a Hoosier.
Wilson resigned last week after Glass said the two couldn’t overcome differences in how they thought the program should be led. They were differences Glass was confident had been rectified after a 2015 investigation.
That investigation, led by an outside law firm called Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, started after Carovillano left the school and program April 6, 2015.
IU Athletics said in a statement it brought the firm in to investigate concerns Dean expressed to Associate Athletic Director for Engagement and Sports Performance Anthony Thompson about Carovillano’s treatment.
Dean said IU began to reach out to him on the car ride home from IU. The Carovillanos said they never sought out an investigation and were surprised at how quickly it began.
The concerns Dean brought up, according to the IU Athletics statement, were “(1) the University’s medical care of Nick’s injury was inadequate; (2) the coaching staff exerted improper influence over the provision of medical care to Nick and other injured players; and (3) a general ‘unhealthy culture’ surrounding the football program led Nick and other injured players not to obtain the necessary medical care.”
Carovillano said an athletic trainer named Craig Tweedy refused to check out the injury he sustained Sept. 23, 2014, and from that point on Carovillano became wary of approaching him. A week later a second trainer allegedly wouldn’t acknowledge the existence of a back injury and, after first telling him to stretch more, said Carovillano had shin splints.
Tweedy declined to comment for this story.
The weekend of IU’s Oct. 11, 2014, matchup at Iowa, Carovillano traveled home to Cincinnati. At a small gathering a doctor noticed him walk, hunched over, across the room they were in. He diagnosed Carovillano with bulging discs without needing a scan.
With this informal diagnosis, Carovillano said he approached the two trainers and IU’s team doctor. About three weeks had passed since his initial injury. They agreed to have an MRI, but before the scan, Carovillano said they continued to have him practice and participate in a modified lifting program.
Carovillano said Tweedy acknowledged a week later that Carovillano wasn’t as soft as he once thought.
“Nick, on a scale of one to you’re not going to sue me,” Carovillano recalls Tweedy saying later on in his rehab, “how bad does your back feel today?”
The 2015 investigation included interviews with 20 people. Four, among them the chief medical doctor and head football athletic trainer, had direct involvement in Carovillano’s medical care. Four more were members of the football staff, Wilson among them. The other 12 were then-current football players who had suffered injuries at one point during their IU careers.
Dean declined to have his son participate in the investigation. He provided Thompson with information as he learned it but didn’t want a 19-year-old kid who just lost the game he loved to injury talk to a lawyer hired by the University under investigation for alleged mistreatment.
Multiple former players spoke out after Wilson’s resignation about abuse they allege occurred during their time playing for him. They cited instances when players were pressured to play through injuries, shamed for incurring them and denied treatment at the appropriate time. Others have come to his defense.
Glass met with Wilson on May 13, 2015, a month after he met with Wilson to inform him of the start of the investigation, to say the investigation found Carovillano did not receive inadequate medical care. It also said coaches did not exert any improper influence on members of the medical staff but did uncover behaviors that may have created an unhealthy environment for injured players.
In a memo rehashing the meeting, Glass said Wilson admitted he made jokes at the expense of injured players and implied they weren’t useful members of the team. Glass mentioned some players found it depressing and demoralizing that coaches made comments like that and pressured hurt athletes to press on.
Any such comments or other behavior, Glass warned, violates sections of the Statement of Principles on the Conduct of Participants in Student Athletic Programs and could result in disciplinary action for Wilson and his staff.
Dean didn’t understand how IU didn’t find evidence of improper medical care. He also said the section, where he is said to have been told the investigation’s results and told Thompson he didn’t want to pursue anything further, of the IU Athletics statement that describes a conversation between him and Thompson didn’t happen.
In an email exchange Dec. 2, Dean expressed his displeasure with the press conference and the findings of IU Athletics’ inquiries. Glass assured Dean IU took the concerns about Carovillano’s medical care seriously and recommendations were made and implemented.
A memo from Thompson to Glass on May 22, 2015, said the program put in place would be reviewed every season to ensure it continued to work effectively to provide “a healthy and safe environment for our students.”
When Glass had to revisit issues this fall, he thought had been put to bed, a change was made.
“It wasn’t a precipitating event but the accumulation of the realization that we weren’t on the same page and a lack of confidence by me that we could get and stay on the same page,” Glass said at the Dec. 1 press conference.
Wilson was always a positive and upbeat, if a bit self-centered, presence during Carovillano’s recruitment.
Carovillano bought into Wilson’s pledge that the program was on an upward trajectory. Carovillano looked forward to an opportunity to play early. He wanted to be a great college football player and was excited he would get the chance to do so in Bloomington.
Dean, on the other hand, was skeptical. He claimed he could see right through Wilson and didn’t want Carovillano to attend IU.
Wilson cut Dean off and interrupted him during his in-home visit, and Dean watched Wilson cut off academic advisers giving a presentation to families of recruits during an official visit Carovillano took.
“He just didn’t listen to what other people had to say,” Carovillano said.
Dean tries to avoid the arm-chair Wilson sat on in the corner of their living room when he visited the Carovillano’s Cincinnati home.
Outside of Wilson’s interjections making Carovillano a little uncomfortable, he didn’t put too much stock in it. That’s just how Wilson operated, and it didn’t change Carovillano’s desire to play for him.
As his IU career got underway, his parents flew an IU flag from their porch.
“It’s the sort of thing that Nick normally would not like,” Dean said about his quiet son. “But he had a sense of pride playing for IU, and he was happy to see the IU colors on the porch when he came home.”
When Wilson started to belittle Carovillano for his injury and inability to contribute, call him a pussy and tell him a medical redshirt was far off, Carovillano wasn’t surprised.
“I’m paying you $70,000 to sit on your ass, and I get nothing,” Carovillano remembers Wilson telling injured and underperforming players who had to spend practices at the tent, which rested in the corner of the practice field, when the team headed in to the locker room.
Wilson also allegedly didn’t like to see injured players enjoying themselves at meals.
More than anything, it just made Carovillano think less of Wilson.
“I was on the scout team trying to get the starters and rotation guys ready for the game,” Carovillano said. “So, it just seemed like, why am I destroying my back here for this guy just for him to come over and make me feel like I’m not a part of the team?”
Carovillano said he overheard a trainer admitting to players at one point that Wilson comes down hard on him if he’s too nice to players about injuries.
When Carovillano’s relationship with IU football began to deteriorate, Dean made a decision.
By the time he went up to the University to bring his son back home in April 2015, the family’s IU flag no longer hung over the porch.