As part of his first day on the job, Athletic Director David Brandon spoke before the University’s top faculty governing body yesterday with his predecessor, former Athletic Director Bill Martin.
At the meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, Martin and Brandon discussed topics like the Athletic Department’s financial situation, changes in the academic area of the student-athlete experience and University facilities used for recreational and exercise purposes.
The two also discussed the possibility of expanding the Big Ten Conference — a hot topic in college sports circles of late.
Martin began the talk by highlighting the strong financial state of the Athletic Department, which he said is in a drastically different place than where it was when he began his tenure at the University a decade ago.
“We are in strong long-term financial shape,” Martin told SACUA members.
Martin added that the Athletic Department may feel some of the effects of the economic downturn in the future, but that even with the recession, the Athletic Department is still in stable financial condition.
Martin also discussed improvements in graduation rates of student-athletes during his time as Athletic Director. He said the graduation rates of both students at large and that of student-athletes have risen since 2000, with an improvement from 68 percent to 84 percent for student-athletes and 82 percent to 88 percent for other students.
One of Martin’s goals as athletic director was to close the gap between the graduation rates of student-athletes and the greater student body, he said. And, while statistics for 2009 have yet to be determined, Martin said he believes the numbers will be right on track.
“My goal was to always have graduation rates of the student-athletes the same as the students at large,” Martin said.
The former athletic director also discussed several changes to the academic area of the student-athlete experience.
Martin said all freshman scholarship enrollees on the women’s and men’s basketball teams, as well as freshman members of the football team, will be required to attend the Comprehensive Studies Program’s Summer Bridge Program unless they are “academically off the charts,” he said.
Martin also discussed a new system in place in which the provost’s office oversees student-athletes’ academic performances.
“It used to be that the academic support of athletics had a dotted line to the provost and a solid line to the athletics,” he said. “That’s now switched.”
Martin said giving the provost’s office primary responsibility over student-athletes’ academics has been successful. He added that it has allowed for a burden to be lifted from the Athletic Department.
Martin said there has also been increased communication with the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and that he sees more student-athletes enrolling in LSA as freshmen.
According to Martin, LSA Dean Terrence McDonald has been interested in bringing more student-athletes into the school, which Martin said would be both beneficial to the future of LSA and the Athletic Department.
In addition to discussing academics and the Athletic Department’s finances, Martin answered questions from SACUA members regarding the state of the University’s facilities used for recreational and exercise purposes.
“Recreational sport facilities here are nowhere near comparable to other universities,” SACUA member Wayne Stark said.
Martin said he hopes that this issue will move forward more effectively now that oversight for the Department Recreational Sports has been transferred from the Athletic Department to the Division of Student Affairs.
He cited the possibility of a student fee as a source of revenue for the buildings, a method that was used to fund some of the current buildings.
Martin said the buildings were “historic at best” and “truly do need to be updated,” noting that he hopes they are able to become similar in quality to those at Ohio State University or other colleges where the facilities have been recently updated.
Brandon, who remained quiet for most of the meeting, said he was happy to take the reins of a department where “nothing was on fire.”
In the future, Brandon said he hopes to keep the revenue line going for revenue generating sports, like hockey, basketball and football, since the “cost line will continue to accelerate.”
Brandon also discussed facility improvement, citing Crisler Arena, where he said about six teams jockey for court time.
Some teams have to practice as early as 7:00 a.m., not by choice but because there is simply no other time or space where they can hold practice, Brandon said. He cited last weekend as an example of how crowded the facility is. The Michigan men’s basketball team had to hold practice off campus before their game against Michigan State University because the Big Ten Wrestling Championships were taking place in Crisler Arena.
Brandon and SACUA members also discussed the issue of adding teams to the Big Ten Conference, with SACUA members citing concerns like extended travel time for students.
Brandon said adding to the conference brings about “a tricky set of issues” driven by elements like recruiting, broadcasting, academic standards and geographic location.
In dealing with recruiting, Brandon said it would be important to have inroads in states where many high-quality athletes live.
Martin added the Big Ten is now coping with the issue of changing demographics. He said most of the athletic population now lives and the South and that coaches are forced to recruit in Southern locations to find the best players.
“High schools have opened in the South and high schools have closed in the North,” Martin said.
He said the number of football players in the state of Michigan, for example, is dwindling, which is why it is becoming more common to see players from Texas and other southern states.