Athletic Director Bill Martin reported improvements in student-athlete academic performance when he spoke before members of the Senate Assembly yesterday. Despite improvements in the classroom, though, Martin said the Athletic Department is bracing for a financial hit in light of a down economy.
In addition the Athletic Department’s fiscal situation, Martin discussed improvements in student-athlete academic performance and gave an update on construction at Michigan Stadium. He also spoke about the faculty bowl perks practice for which the department has come under some criticism.
Martin said the Athletic Department is in good financial condition at this point, but that it could be soon be affected by the country’s economic downturn.
“Do I believe the current economic situation in our country and in the world is going to have an impact on Michigan athletics?” Martin said. “Yes I do, definitely.”
Although the department has not yet seen a financial downturn, Martin said it is likely forthcoming.
“I think we’ll possibly see a softening of some of our development activities and our donor gifts that we receive,” he said, adding corporate sponsorships may also fall.
Martin updated members of the Senate Assembly on the Big House’s construction, saying he was very proud of the project and clarifying that the project’s goal was not to build premium seating.
“The goal was to update an 80-plus-year-old facility to today’s standards of safety and convenience,” he said. “Building premium seating was a means to an end. It was a way we could pay for it without having to put a surcharge on our ticket.”
Martin said the stadium project has raised more in donations than originally anticipated, but that the project will cost more than originally planned. It was expected to cost $226 million.
In addition to athletic expenses, Martin said he is proud the Athletic Department has been able to contribute approximately $3.6 million to the president’s discretionary fund over the last two years.
The Athletic Department also contributes approximately $14 million a year in tuition and board payments to the University of Michigan for athletes receiving scholarships.
Martin said when he became athletic director almost nine years ago, he was committed to not only improving the athletic performance of student-athletes, but their academic performances as well.
“My whole deal here is I just want to make Michigan better, both athletically and academically,” he said.
A handout presented to assembly members outlined the University’s student-athletes’ academic performance.
According to Martin’s handout, student-athlete graduation rates have risen from 68 percent in 2000 to 84 percent last year, despite fluctuating graduation rates throughout that time. In the same period of time, overall graduation rates among all University students rose from 82 percent to 88 percent.
According to the handouts, the University also has the second highest overall student-athlete graduation rate among Big Ten schools, among which the football team has the third highest graduation rate.
Despite this, Martin said he believes a higher graduation rate is possible.
“There’s always room for improvement,” he said.
When one assembly member asked about the recent controversy over reimbursing members of the Committee on Academic Performance, who attended bowl games on behalf of the University, Martin said he supported the old practice.
“I personally support it, but it’s not my decision,” he said of the practice. “That’s a decision the president will make.”
Martin said the opportunity to travel to bowl games allowed faculty to meet with leaders from the NCAA and provided the opportunity to build relationships and trust.
A decision at last month’s Senate Assembly meeting advocated transferring power to make recommendations on student-athlete eligibility to the academic advising office in the school in which the student-athlete is enrolled. Previously, the Committee on Academic Performance made recommendations to the Office of the Provost concerning student-athlete eligibility.
— Devon Thorsby contributed to this report.