President Schlissel clarifies his SACUA comments on athletics


President Mark Schlissel said Tuesday he wanted to clarify his comments regarding student-athletes, the athletics department and their focus on academics and rules compliance. He said it became clear that his remarks during a faculty governance meeting Monday did not provide the full picture of the situation.

Schlissel was a guest Monday during a meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. He responded to a number of questions about athletics in his first faculty governance meeting following the appointment of Jim Hackett as interim athletic director after the resignation of David Brandon.

Here, in a question-and-answer format, is the president’s clarification of those earlier comments.

Q. Are U-M student athletes complying with NCAA regulations regarding limits on practice time?

A. I noted this at the SACUA meeting but I want to reiterate: The university is in full compliance with NCAA practice-hour regulations. Athletics compliance officials track countable practice hours weekly and our student-athletes are adhering to NCAA rules.

Our system is designed to identify and correct problems quickly and address them before they become repetitive problems. There are other athletic-related activities that occur that are not counted toward practice hours such as leadership and time-management training. Time spent on medical treatment and study hall are other areas not counted. 

A number of students choose to workout or train on their own time, outside of coach-run and organized practices. Sometimes these may be referred to as “captain’s practices.”  No coaches can be present, unless permitted under NCAA safety regulations (diving coach). And that time is not counted, either.

And yet, these are real time demands on student-athletes. The athletic conferences are concerned about the overall time demands on student-athletes and I’m glad that it is a top agenda item for the Big Ten Conference. We all see this as an important topic.

Q. Have you talked to Athletics personnel about your SACUA comments?

A.  I talked with Coach Brady Hoke today to apologize for not providing this full picture in my earlier remarks, and I asked him to convey that to his team. And I plan to do the same, in person, when I return from out-of-town commitments.

I’ve done the same with our interim AD, Jim Hackett, and asked him to convey those sentiments to our other coaches and their teams. I have a great deal of respect for the efforts of our student-athletes and for the coaches and others in Athletics who support them, and that did not come through in my earlier comments. I regret that.

Q. In your SACUA remarks you seemed to indicate some student-athletes are not as successful academically as they should be. Can you elaborate on that?

A. We all want our Michigan student-athletes to be successful in the classroom and on the field. 

In several sports, including football, there was a period where our academic performance was not as high as we would like it to be.

But in recent years, the university and athletic department have been proactive in enhancements with our Academic Success Program and recent data suggest improvement in NCAA Academic Progress Rates, which is a real-time measure of academic performance.

Academic success of our student-athletes is a priority for Coach Brady Hoke and all of our coaches. From my first conversation with Brady, it was clear that he views himself as a teacher and mentor of the young men in his charge, and I respect that greatly.  I appreciate all he and others in Athletics have accomplished, particularly the student-athletes themselves. And I might note the football team’s single-year APR scores for the past three years are the highest in the history of Michigan football.

Q: Does Athletics admit students not qualified to be at U-M?

A: All prospective students are admitted by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, not Athletics. We certainly want all admitted students to succeed academically at Michigan and work to provide the support they need to do so.

The holistic approach that Admissions uses to evaluate prospective students goes well beyond test scores and high school transcripts. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but it has certainly proven successful over time for us.

As with all students applying to Michigan we make decisions based on the best information available, but admissions is an art as much as a science. Many students find the academic rigor of Michigan challenging and this can be true for student-athletes in particular given the demands on their time. Our goal is to provide appropriate ways to support the academic success of all of our students, including our student-athletes.

Q. What are the ways that Athletics helps student-athletes succeed academically?

A. As I noted earlier, our priority is for every Michigan student-athlete to be successful in the classroom and on the field. If I conveyed earlier that there are underlying academic problems here, I want to correct that now.

Michigan has important safeguards in place to support academic performance and U-M’s faculty liaison to the athletics department, Professor Anne Curzan, plays a highly engaged role with the department, the teams and the students.  It’s a more robust picture than I described earlier. For example:

We assess the academic progress of our student-athletes every term, including examining their GPA, completion of degree-applicable credits and overall progress toward their degrees.  

This review is done in conjunction with the University Registrar’s Office and Professor Curzan, our faculty athletics representative.

She signs off on all the eligibility information we submit to the NCAA or Big Ten Conference, and the athletics department has an ongoing dialogue with her on those issues.

She also serves on the Academic Performance Committee, which reviews student-athlete academic performance to ensure it meets U-M standards. Our standards exceed those established by the NCAA.

This monitoring of student-athlete performance occurs to support and ensure student-athlete academic progress, not because of any concern regarding the lack of university oversight and review.

I am respectful of the talents and enthusiasm brought to U-M by all of our students, including our student-athletes. I have learned how challenging it is to pursue excellence in sport at the intercollegiate level while progressing towards graduation at a university as academically rigorous as ours.

The university remains committed to providing the support necessary for our student-athletes to find success in their sport, in the classroom and in their lives after graduation.



  1. Thomas ODonnell, PhD
    on November 12, 2014 at 4:02 am

    I can only imagine how much time a UM president wastes on dealing with athletics. Perhaps athletics should not be under his direction except for nominating the AD. It is a huge waste of time from the supposed mission of a university.

    The whole interview is of a bureaucracy-speak nature. Especially, the answer to the question about on what basis are student athletes admitted to UM really smacks of obfuscation. Why not a simple, plain English answer … one that every one, including the athletes – at least in basketball and football – knows to be the answer in the majority of the cases?

    Of course they are admitted primarily for their athletic prowess. I taught at UM for over 10 years and got earned my degrees there.. I am quite familiar with the level of the many of the athletes as compared to the rest of the campus population, and the way they are treated, kept in supervised study halls like high school students, etc. etc.

    We have had many fine coaches, who were concerned about these issues. That is not the problem, generally speaking.

    The whole system is based on a corrupting drive for the best athletics as opposed to to athletes who are first and foremost students. The president’s bureaucratized remarks, like many before him, reflect this fact.

    • Cliff O’Connor
      on November 12, 2014 at 10:21 am

      I don’t disagree with Mr. O’Donnell’s comments but would add that somebody has to pay the piper. Either higher tuitions, more donors, state taxes, or athletic revenues, if any university is to survive you must have at least one or two of the above and in some case all of the above. A lot of people don’t understand that getting a degree from a prestigious institution is a business for both the student but also the school

      • Dan Burns
        on November 12, 2014 at 11:06 am

        I have not verified this in years, but it used to be the practice at UM that athletic revenues were not to be used to support the academic mission of the University, the idea being to maintain independence from the vagaries that might beset athletics compared to our ongoing mission of academic education. I thought athletics revenues (i.e., in practice, football and basketball) were to support the athletics programs (i.e., other sports). There may, of course, be a link between academics and athletics via alumni and other donations, though I have been told that many who are motivated to donate by athletic success will donate to funding the athletic programs which excite them. In sum, there is an argument that the business of athletics is to a certain degree independent of the rest of the business of the university. There are a number of perhaps independent pipers who have to be paid amounts to be determined, and therefore many ways to “survive”, as Mr O’Connor is concerned about. UM’s hand may be forced by the courts if they redefine the relationship of “student-athletes” to their schools by allowing payment to be made for athletic services. This would certainly bring things into a more business focused clarity, as Mr. O’Donnell may wish, but it would certainly shake-up a lot of the self-images of what college athletics is about. I would be curious under this scenario as to what side effects this would have on such things as student and alumni loyalty and undergraduate recruitment (non-athletic).

      • HOWARD elzinga
        on November 13, 2014 at 9:24 am

        Well said, but let’s carry it one step furthur in saying THE UNIVERSTY OF MICHIGAN ramks as the number 1# state university in the nation in academics. That NOT ONE ; of the top ten universities football rankings are measued to be in the top half academically in the nation !! For instance Alabama 86th and Oregon is a bottom feeder .. Maybe you are correct. Our “intelligent ” president should be damn thankful Brady Hoke, his staff and the rest of our programs are held to the HIGHEST STANDARDS in the nation . His graduation rate is 100%
        WE CAN CLAIM TO HAVE “STUDENT -Athletes . We should be damn proud of the men Brady interviews, signs and become a part of Michigan’s program. His program has the highest APR in history ! Better than Fielding’s, Bo’s or LLoyd’s . Now that’s impressive .
        COACH Z

    • Bob Foster
      on December 1, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      Really not so bad…

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