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Schlissel steps into athletic shoes

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 24, 2014

University President-elect Mark Schlissel has an M.D. and Ph.D, but he may have some stuff to learn about football Saturday.

The University’s Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to name Schlissel the 14th President of the University of Michigan, succeeding current President Mary Sue Coleman. Schlissel arrives with background in teaching and university administration, but has not assumed this high of a position so far in his career.

“Obviously (athletics are) an area that I do have to learn a lot about,” Schlissel said. “At my current institution, you’d be surprised to know athletics is a big part of the campus’s life, but it doesn’t happen at the national stage very often.”

“It’s not that sports don’t permeate the campus; it’s just at a different level.”

Though the Athletic Department remains autonomous and self-funded, Schlissel will be responsible for overseeing a budget of $111 million for athletics last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity in Athletics Data Analysis. In contrast, Brown operated with an athletic budget of $18 million in 2013.

However, Brown also boasts 37 intercollegiate sports, more than the University currently has to offer. With the addition of women’s lacrosse this year, the University now has 27 varsity sports.

The Athletic Department is currently in the midst of expanding the athletic campus, creating new facilities and expanding existing ones. Currently, three scheduled projects are ongoing, including renovations to Schembechler Hall and the Donald R. Shepard Softball Building.

The total cost of all 14 of the scheduled projects at the start of the new school year was estimated to be $341 million, though that number can easily change.

In his press conference Friday, Schlissel focused on the amount of attention athletic teams have received at the University.

“You Google ‘Michigan’ and the first 10 stories you get are about athletics,” he said. “We’ve got to find ways to leverage that level of public attention onto the other wonderful things that are happening on campus as well.”

Schlissel hopes to keep the focus on academics, while supporting athletic development to an appropriate level. He said students still come to the University primarily to be educated and that athletics should compliment that desire, not overpower it.

Schlissel will follow a president who has been active in the athletic community. During her tenure, Coleman was a driving force in the hiring of current Athletic Director Dave Brandon and has denied the raising of Final Four banners from the 1992 to 1993 seasons in which booster Ed Martin admitted to laundering money to athletes.

Brandon, a former regent, refused to raise the Final Four banners from the 1992 and 1993 basketball seasons in which sports booster Ed Martin admitted to laundering money to athletes.

“Some day, I won't be president anymore, and maybe someone else will have a different view,” Coleman said in 2011. “But I think you have to reflect on the larger meaning and that we want to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”

Coleman was also at the helm when the University faced allegations of “failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program.”

On Friday, Brandon praised Coleman's tenure while also expressing his support for Schlissel.

“President Coleman has been engaged and helpful and been a pattern of Michigan Athletics — loves and respects the role it plays on campus,” Brandon said. “And I’m sure the new president will have the same point of view. And that’s what I heard in his remarks today at the press conference.”

Brandon added that he looks forward to meeting and working with Schlissel in the future.

In the press conference, the president-elect said the Athletic Department maintains a strong reputation for the University.

“It’s important that our sports programs operate at the highest level of integrity,” he said. “And that we practice in public the greatest level of sportsmanship to serve as a role model.”

The biggest difference between the Brown and Michigan athletic departments for Schlissel might not be the budget or the number of programs to monitor. Perhaps it’s the number of people Michigan Stadium can hold — 90,000 more fans than Brown Stadium currently seats.

And it’s the atmosphere, the one that shuts down campus on Saturdays or keeps students out in the cold waiting to fill the Crisler Center that Schlissel has come to embrace early in his transition to Michigan.

“I think the great thing about intercollegiate athletics at a place like the University of Michigan is that it’s part of the culture; it brings the community together,” Schlissel said. “It’s the band, it’s the Saturdays in the stadium, it’s the feeling the vibration in the stands at a basketball game. I think it’s a big piece of the institutional culture.”