President Schlissel addresses athletics comments, apologizes to Brady Hoke

By Greg Garno, Managing Sports Editor
and Sam Gringlas, Daily News Editor
Published November 11, 2014

After delivering candid comments regarding University athletics at Monday afternoon’s meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, University President Mark Schlissel spoke with The Michigan Daily by phone Tuesday evening to clarify his statements.

Schlissel arranged the interview through the University’s Office of Public Affairs after a story Monday resulted in both praise and criticism of the president’s frank assessment of the University’s Athletic Department. In Tuesday’s interview, he addressed three points: admission standards for athletes, the Athletic Department’s compliance with countable practice hours, and its relationship with English Prof. Anne Curzan, who serves as faculty liaison to the department.

Academic Performance

At Monday’s SACUA meeting, Schlissel said, “We admit students who aren’t as qualified, and it’s probably the kids that we admit that can’t honestly, even with lots of help, do the amount of work and the quality of work it takes to make progression from year to year. These past two years have gotten better, but before that, the graduation rates were terrible, with football somewhere in the 50s and 60s when our total six-year rate at the University is somewhere near 90 percent.”

Schlissel told the Daily on Tuesday that all students are admitted by the Office of Admissions, not by athletic programs or coaches. He said this process includes a holistic review of an applicant’s qualifications, including grades, test scores and special talents, such as athletic ability.

“We don’t admit students that we don’t think can be successful,” he said. “It’s really not science … where we’re trying to predict future performance of the students in a brand-new environment, but we do the very best to pick students that will be successful here and then provide them with the academic support they need to be successful.”

Schlissel said the University previously struggled with promoting strong academic performance for student-athletes, but in recent years, particularly under Michigan Football Coach Brady Hoke, the University has been more proactive with academic success programs. Schlissel said initial performance data indicates the University could expect to see further improvements in the next few years.

Hoke, in response, noted his team’s commitment to academics during Tuesday’s weekly Big Ten coaches’ teleconference.

“The thing we’re proud of since we’ve been here, is that all 69 of the 69 seniors we’ve had have graduated,” Hoke said. “Our APR (Academic Progress Rate) number is the highest it has ever been. We really look at, in recruiting, we want to get guys who are academically able to succeed and do the work. We want the best football players and the best people.”

At Hoke’s 12:08 p.m. slot to speak, he said he had not been in contact with Schlissel since his initial meeting earlier in the year. Schlissel told the Daily on Tuesday that he had apologized to Hoke for his comments on Monday and that he had asked interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett to convey an apology to coaches of all of the University’s sports.

“I did talk to Coach Hoke today, and I apologized to him for really not providing a full picture of all things all our teams — and football for sure — and our coaches do to support our student-athletes — and not just in their athletic roles, but in their roles as students,” Schlissel said.

“I also had a discussion today with our interim A.D., Jim Hackett, and I asked Jim to convey those same thoughts to the other coaches and their teams, because I was concerned that I may have misrepresented things in a way that didn’t do justice to how hard our student-athletes work and how much support they get from their coaches and the academic advising staff.”

Athletic Director’s role in hiring a new coach

In response to a question from the Daily, Schlissel clarified his comments from Monday regarding his process in hiring a new athletic director and his role in determining Hoke’s future.

“That’s why I’m taking a bit of time with the search for Dave’s successor,” Schlissel said Monday. “Some folks wanted me to hire an athletic director (earlier) so he could fire the current football coach and hire the next coach but I want to take the time to make sure we get someone who is not only technically adept, but can ensure that the program has financial and academic integrity, and also someone who shares the value system of realizing our mission.”

On Tuesday, Schlissel said he was paraphrasing the large number of e-mails from Michigan fans, including those regarding the Wolverines football program.

“With the football team having a challenging year, some of that advice speaks to the head coach. As I said earlier in the season, all of our coaches will be evaluated at the end of the season on their full body of work and that will be done by the athletic director,” he said.

“What I was referring to was the quote, which was accurately quoted but wasn’t clearly stated by me, is that there are people saying, ‘You gotta do this, you gotta do this.’ But what I say back is, it’s actually very important — the personnel that we have in place — and I want to hire an outstanding permanent athletic director. I don’t want to do the quick easy thing that some people are calling for, and that no decision has been made about the future of the coach and that’s the athletic director’s decision, almost certainly, at the end of the season.”

NCAA compliance rules

Schlissel said the Athletic Department is fully compliant with NCAA regulations that limit the number of countable hours for which a student-athlete may participate in organized team activities. What he was trying to convey Monday, Schlissel said, was that student-athletes often spend far longer than the weekly 20-hour limit by participating in non-countable activities such as travel, medical rehabilitation, voluntary workouts and other voluntary activities.

“If I could wave my magic wand and really change things for these student-athletes, I would. The NCAA says 20.5 hours is the max, but it turns out nobody follows that,” Schlissel said Monday. “There are ways that they work around it and if it was only us, it’d be ridiculous, I’d clean house, but it’s everybody.”

Faculty oversight

During his comments to SACUA on Monday, Schlissel added that Curzan, the faculty liaison to the Athletic Department, said it “often tries to keep her at arm’s length.”

On Tuesday evening, Schlissel characterized his comments as “an over or misstatement on my part,” though he noted that sometimes there is tension in balancing academic and athletic priorities.

“There’s a back and forth between pushing hard on the academic needs of students, while at the same time, making sure that the student-athletes can satisfy their athletic comments and pursue their sport as a member of a team at a very high level.”

“I think Anne has full access to all the student-athletes, the coaches value her as a partner, there may be challenging circumstances that arise as students are balancing their academic commitments and their athletic commitments, but Anne is in the trenches working directly with both coaches and students helping them succeed in both.”

Co-Managing Sports Editor Alejandro Zúñiga contributed to this report.