What happens when you take the control away from the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics?

Paul Wong
Steve Fisher took the helm of the program and won the national championship in 1989. But within 10 years his bags were packed as he left Ann Arbor in disgrace. (AP PHOTO)

According to legendary Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham, it results in the “largest financial violation in amateur sports history and an illustrious calamity for Michigan – a black mark that will be forever there.”

Canham, athletic director from 1968-88, said that when former University President James Duderstadt lessened the authority of the Board in Control right after Joe Roberson replaced Bo Schembechler as athletic director. The eventually tumultuous basketball program was then left without proper oversight and ultimately leading toward the type of violations mentioned in the Ed Martin indictment.

“It’s just like General Motors throwing out the board of directors,” Canham said. “If the Board in Control had been constituted, this never would have happened.”

Canham said that others, such as the players and coach Steve Fisher are to blame as well.

“Fisher is making a half a million a year to supervise 13 athletes and he can’t do it?” Canham said. “I’m not accusing him of anything but incompetence.”

But with each of the past two University presidents, Dunderstadt and Lee Bollinger, combining to “wipe out the board completely” in terms of authority, it left a bulk of the responsibility in overseeing the athletic department to the University president himself.

“Half the presidents in the country haven’t had jobs outside of academia,” Canham said. “Most don’t have any idea of what an agent looks like or a gambler looks like.”

Right before he left to take the Columbia University presidential post, Bollinger proposed changes to the University Board of Regents’ bylaws that would effectively give more control to the president and reduce the Board in Control to a mere advisory position. The changes also added two more faculty members, who would be appointed by the president, to the Board in Control, and the chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs would become a regular member. The bylaw change was approved by the regents with little resistance at last December’s meeting.

“All of this is to make sure intercollegiate athletics don’t get out of control,” Bollinger said at a Nov. 12 SACUA meeting. “The Board in Control should be, and has been unmistakably advisory; the name should be changed to reflect that.”

But Canham said the addition of more faculty members instead of distinguished alumni took away from the Board’s balance. He said it also extended the president’s duties too far in matters in which they aren’t always fully informed.

Interim University President B. Joseph White said he doesn’t know enough about the idiosyncrasies of the Board to have an opinion on the subject.

“I don’t have enough experience yet with the Board in Control to answer. I certainly think the faculty members have a great deal of interest in athletics and I think we have an interest to capitalize off that,” White said.

Board member Percy Bates refused to comment and fellow board members Donald Deskins and Athletic Director Bill Martin were unavailable.

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