a collection of articles and links on the Michigan academic discussion, spring-summer of '07
(collected by BGS)

harbaugh hired

Jim Harbaugh's first summer job was painting Stanford Stadium.

Harbaugh was a student at Palo Alto High School across the street from the Stanford campus, where his father was an assistant coach and John Elway was the star quarterback.

Harbaugh admits he looked down at the field during his breaks, imagining what it would be like to play there. He never got that chance.

After a stellar college career at Michigan, 15 years as an NFL quarterback and three years as head coach at University of San Diego, Harbaugh finally got his opportunity on The Farm with a five-year contract to become the Cardinal's new head coach.

"I used to stare down at the field when I was stenciling those numbers. I so very badly wanted to go to Stanford and play for the Cardinal," Harbaugh said Tuesday. "That wasn't meant to be. I never played a football game at Stanford. But it's a great honor and privilege to be back here now. This was my number one choice all along."

original statement

"Michigan is a good school, and I got a good education there,'' Harbaugh said. "But the athletic department has ways to get borderline guys in and, when they're in, they steer them to courses in sports communications. They're adulated when they're playing, but when they get out, the people who adulated them won't hire them.''

Harbaugh not only stood by his comments, he expanded on them. When asked to defend his claim that Michigan pushes athletes into easy majors, he paused for a second and then dropped a bombshell.

"I would use myself as an example,'' Harbaugh said. "I came in there, wanted to be a history major, and I was told early on in my freshman year that I shouldn't be. That it takes too much time. Too much reading. That I shouldn't be a history major and play football.''

Asked if he saw teammates who graduated from college unprepared for life, he said he did.

And, no, Harbaugh doesn't believe things have changed in his 20 years away from Ann Arbor. He said that if Michigan disclosed the grade-point averages and SAT scores of incoming football recruits, they would be "significantly lower'' than the rest of the student body.

"As great as the institution is at Michigan, I think it should be held to a higher standard,'' Harbaugh said. "I don't think it should cut corners that dramatically for football and basketball players. I love the university. I got a tremendous education there. I think it should be held to a higher standard.

"I think it should hold itself to a higher standard.''

Passion filled Harbaugh's voice when he spoke about the regret he carries over allowing himself to be talked out of majoring in history - "I blame myself for allowing that limitation to be put on me'' - and he clearly thinks similar limitations are being placed on football players at not just Michigan, but pretty much every Division I school outside of Stanford.

"I'll give you an example,'' he said. "We have eight players on our team who are in engineering and three more on their way in the freshman class. (A recruit) asked me how many engineers we have on the football team. I told him eight, and he said that's interesting ... another school told me they had an engineering student three years ago. They told me you can't play football and be an engineer at our school.''

OK, you might say, so maybe the Wolverines aren't Stanford. Maybe some compromises are made. But wouldn't Harbaugh admit Michigan is more committed to balancing athletics and academics than most schools in Division I football?

"The compromises are too much,'' he said. "I think everybody knows that. You pretty much have to have your head in the sand if you don't know that.''

Heuser article

At a place where the "the leaders and best'' phrase from "The Victors'' fight song is widely interpreted to cover everything from athletics to academics to professional accomplishments, the charges were met with all the warmth of a January blizzard.

Athletic director Bill Martin told The News the football program "absolutely'' does not steer players into particular majors. While he declined to address other aspects of Harbaugh's comments directly, Martin added tersely, "I would love to play Stanford. I'd love to play Harbaugh's team ... So would our coaches.''

Admissions director Ted Spencer acknowledged athletes receive breaks in admissions, and have for years, but said "we don't admit any student that we think will fail.''

According to university records, 3 percent of all undergraduate degrees conferred between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2005 were in general studies, which falls under the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts umbrella. The percentage of football players currently on track to receive a general studies degree is much higher.

The recently published spring football media guide shows that nearly 82 percent of scholarship players on the 2007 Michigan football team who declared a major have done so in general studies. The four of 22 who did not pick general studies are majoring in psychology, American culture, sociology and sports management and communications, respectively.

The normally affable Spencer bristles when addressing the preponderance of general studies majors on the football team.

"If the impression is that general studies is a weak major, then you have to examine the course descriptions,'' Spencer said. "The syllabus for each course would probably make you say, 'Wow.' We don't have any remedial courses here at Michigan.''

The admissions director said he understands why players gravitate toward general studies, which allows students a wide range of course choices and, thus, more flexibility in scheduling. Unlike other majors in the College of LS&A, there is also no requirement to take a foreign language.

"It's much harder to be a business major and go to practice and play 13 or 14 games a year, travel and yet be able to go to calculus and those kinds of classes,'' Spencer added.

In an interview with The News two weeks ago, Harbaugh said he was told during his freshman year that he shouldn't major in history because it required too much reading, too much time.

But as Mason admits, the pressure at Michigan to perform athletically is immense, which often leads football players toward majors where "as an athlete you can do a little less studying and can get by.''

"There is a lot more pressure on the athletes coming in to perform on the football field than there is at Stanford,'' Mason added. "Not necessarily from the coaches, but from the media, family, friends. The pressure is 10 times tougher. At Stanford, if you make it to a bowl game, that's all right. (At Michigan) if you don't win a national championship, the season was almost a failure.''

Michigan has invested in helping athletes balance those pressures.

It cost $12 million to build the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center, which opened in 2006 on the athletic campus. An additional $885,000 is spent annually on staffing.

With 17 study rooms, tutors, 60-plus computer workstations and more, the mission of the facility is obvious: Provide the support Michigan athletes need to graduate.

"We bend over backward to provide the resources so they can be academically successful,'' Martin said. "I'm really pleased with that whole area.''

As Martin noted, Michigan's academic achievement numbers for the football team are solid. The program's Academic Performance Rate, a tool used by the NCAA that evaluates programs based on whether athletes remain in school and whether they remain academically eligible, trails only Northwestern and Penn State among Big Ten schools.

According to the most recent NCAA data, the Michigan football team's graduation rate among scholarship athletes over a four-year period is 63 percent. That also puts the Wolverines third in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern and Penn State.

One category where Michigan struggles, however, is in graduation rates for black football players. NCAA records show that Michigan graduated 38 percent of its black scholarship players in a four-year span compared with 89 percent of white players. Michigan's graduation rate for black players is tied for seventh in the conference, with Minnesota.

"You can't help but be concerned,'' Spencer said of the disparity. "The other part is that the numbers are tiny. You think about the number of kids that (Michigan coach) Lloyd (Carr) brings in a year; what, 20 kids? And of that number maybe 10 are African-American, and five graduate and five don't. That's 50 percent, but you may not find a trend with any of those five that left.''

There's nothing to suggest, however, that Michigan is engaged in any soul-searching about the ways in which it tries to balance its academics with its football program. Despite what others, including the former football quarterback Harbaugh and the skeptic Ericson, might say.

"I think we're all proud of the fact that we're at an outstanding school for academics and athletics,'' Martin said. "Do we have kids that we have to give additional help to? Absolutely. But look at some of their backgrounds. We're creating opportunities for kids, as well. Nothing pleases me more than someone who has worked hard, and done well on the other end and graduated.''

Carty summary
(no longer an active link; article in archives)

Carty sums it up well, hits on all the responses I would as well.

Hart / Carr sound off

On Wednesday morning, Carr called Harbaugh's comments "elitist" and "arrogant."

"Do I think they're elitist? Yeah," Carr said, during an interview at the Big Ten Conference Kickoff. "Arrogant? Yes. Self-serving? Yes."

Jim Harbaugh's statements about a Michigan education had Mike Hart scratching his head.
Wolverines running back Mike Hart said he was stunned Harbaugh would make such comments about his alma mater. Harbaugh started three seasons at Michigan, leading the Wolverines to the 1987 Rose Bowl. He was named Big Ten player of the year and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting as a senior in 1986.

"That's a guy I have no respect for," Hart said. "You graduate from the University of Michigan, and you're going to talk about your school like that, a great university like we have? To say that we're not true student-athletes? I don't know if maybe he wants to coach here and he's mad because he didn't get a job."

Hart also questioned Harbaugh's decision to accept Michigan transfer Jason Forcier, the Wolverines' backup quarterback last season. Forcier left after starter Chad Henne returned for his senior season, and highly regarded freshman Ryan Mallett enrolled early.

"He says we don't have great student-athletes, but he just accepted one of our transfers," Hart said. "What kind of sense does that make? Obviously, he wants guys like us at his school. I don't know how he can say that. He's not a Michigan man. I wish he'd never played here."

Forde article


 How often, in the history of major-college athletics, has a current player just shredded a former hero from the same school? A guy who took Michigan to a Rose Bowl and was a first-round NFL draft pick, who grew up in Ann Arbor and whose dad was a Wolverines assistant under Bo Schembechler, is thrown out of the Michigan man club by a guy still in college?

The combination of criticisms from players past and present, not to mention the current coach, is why Harbaugh is one angry alum right about now.

"It seemed very orchestrated and organized, especially coming two months after my comments were made," said Harbaugh, who came to Michigan in 1983 wanting to study history but was advised to major in communications instead. "I'm not going to allow those comments to define who I am. … Mike Hart and Jamie Morris are not the makers of the Michigan man list. I put in the blood, sweat and tears to prove I belong on that list.

My motivation was positive. I see how it's done now at Stanford, and I see no reason to believe it can't be the same there. I have a great love for Michigan and what it's done for me.

"I learned from a great man named Bo Schembechler that you speak the truth as you know it. It may not be the popular thing, but you speak your mind. Everything I said is supported by fact, but the thing that has come back is the personal attack on me, not looking at the issue whatsoever."

The most bothersome personal attack to Harbaugh came from Hart. Even more bothersome was the fact that nobody within the Michigan hierarchy has publicly reined in Hart for blasting a well-decorated alum.

"Mike Hart is just repeating their messages," Harbaugh said. "When I was a player, there would have been nobody saying anything like what Mike Hart said about me. We would have been too afraid of the consequences. That wouldn't have happened while Bo was there. I'm glad as the head coach of Stanford I don't have to deal with those repercussions."

Instead, Harbaugh is dealing with the repercussions of his own words, which prompted a question: Why did he bring up the issue of Michigan's academic standards to begin with?

"My motivation was positive," he said. "I see how it's done now at Stanford, and I see no reason to believe it can't be the same there. I have a great love for Michigan and what it's done for me. Bo Schembechler was like a second father. Michigan is a great school and always has been, and I don't see why they can't hold themselves to a higher standard.

Michigan RB Mike Hart's harsh criticism bothered Jim Harbaugh.
"Most avid college football fans, unfortunately, just think about how exciting it is to watch college players play and not about what happens when the football comes to a screeching halt. They need to get a degree -- a quality degree -- and develop a skill set that helps you for the next 60-70 years.

"There is no general studies at Stanford. In my opinion, that major does not give you the skill set to compete [in the working world]."

tarnishing the legacy of schembechler - part I - background

For as unbending as his demands were, for as tough as he could be, for as all-encompassing as his focus was on winning football games for the Maize and Blue, [Schembechler] also always fell back on a realization that this was nothing more than extracurricular pursuit, that academics were the priority, that this wasn’t the pros.

He coached 20 years at Michigan (and five prior to that at his alma mater, Miami of Ohio). His team’s reached 10 Rose Bowls, including three in the final four seasons before he retired in 1989.

That run of success, 235 career victories, is what he will always be remembered for on the field. But Schembechler was always more proud of the kids he turned into men, of the degrees that were hanging on office walls, of the fact that in two decades the NCAA investigators never even bothered to sniff around Ann Arbor.

Bo Schembechler did things his way, without excuse, without debate and his way turned out to be the best way.

He believed in personal integrity and responsibility, of ethics that never wavered, of doing things only one way – the right way – because any other way wasn’t worth doing.

He coached hundreds of players and taught scores of young coaches, but he also, through his powerful position, was a rock who navigated the turbulent 60s and 70s, inspiring a state, a region, a country even, with the reminder that bedrock values still had their place.

"I always felt that he placed playing, in every way, by the rules in front of winning." said Knight. "Winning by the rules of the game or the rules of life was extremely important to him. Unlike most, he did not feel that bending the rules to help him win was worthwhile.

part II - how Carr has let things slide

background article on michigan student-athletes

"They all still believe they're going to go to the NFL, at least for a little while," said Shari Acho, an associate athletic director at the Universitiy.

Acho says one of her challenges is making some of the football players realize that their future may not rest on the gridiron. Instead, her job is to ensure that those who can't cut it in the NFL find success elsewhere.

From the moment a recruit steps on campus, Acho said she tries to engrain the Michigan culture in him. She makes a point to meet with the student and his family, show them the academic facilities and reiterate her emphasis on his eventual graduation.

"When they get here, they understand what's expected," Acho said. "You're not going to just come here and play football. This is Michigan; it just doesn't work that way here."

Acho heads the University's Athletic Academic Success Program, which is designed to keep athletes on pace to graduate and find success once their eligibility expires. In her seven years at the University, Acho has been instrumental in the academic success of football players.

From her office in the Ross Center, Acho moderates the academic side of a football player's time at Michigan. She works directly with the campus's larger academic advising program and coordinates the athlete's schedule if there is a conflict or change of interest.

Acho has networked with various programs on campus to ensure the best possible learning environment. Through various advising meetings, activities and appointments with the Career Center, Acho does what she can so that the players to have every possible opportunity to succeed.

"Ultimately, in terms of achieving their goals and graduating, we're doing that," she said.

Acho has also put in place the 3.5 and 4.5-year graduation program so that the players can get their degree in line with the end of the season.

Working in constant communication with Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, Acho takes on the responsibility of the players' success.

She meets with the coaching staff every Monday to give a full report on the players' academic progress.

"I've been working with coach Carr for a long time, and he's extremely supportive if I'm having any issues with players to follow up right away with them," Acho said. "I'm very lucky that way. I don't know if everyone in the country has that kind of support."

Today, if an athlete is falling behind in class, Acho and Carr will do what they can to nudge him along. But in bygone days, the nudge toward academic success was more like a shove. Bo Schembechler, who coached all three players, pushed his players toward good grades in a way that might make Carr look lax.

"If you didn't go to class, you didn't play," Bergeron said. "And he had the graduate assistant coaches make sure that we went to class."

Betts can remember occasions when his old coach would pull players aside to discuss their classroom performance. If one of his players struggled with academics, Schembechler would take an active role in getting that player to succeed in the classroom, Bergeron said.

After all, Schembechler had to make his players realize that a Michigan education was just as important as a victory on the field - one is ultimately fleeting and one makes the difference between earning millions on Wall Street and hoping for the managerial promotion at McDonalds.

For those who leave the football field behind, like Norm Betts, Bob Bergeron and John Becker, the gridiron memories never leave - but neither does their college degrees. And the combination itself, they say, is invaluable.

"The discipline I learned being on the football team and going to school at the same time are things that I've carried with me throughout my career," Betts said. "It taught me the life skills that taught me to be successful."

The NFL provides a dream life, which Bergeron, Betts and Becker never reached. But the three found success off the field.

BGS Notes:

* 38% for black athletes is abysmal.

* Michigan and Notre Dame are recruiting pretty much the same pool of players. Why do they succeed at ND and not a Michigan?

* it all sounds great from Acho and Martin and Spencer, but the numbers don't lie.

* the pool of schools doing it "the right way": Duke, NW, the academies, Stanford, ND, Vanderbilt. BC

* Notre Dame links
-- http://www.nd.edu/~ndmag/su2002/conklin.html
-- Saracino comments: http://media.www.ndsmcobserver.com/media/storage/paper660/news/2005/03/21/Sports/Football.Admissions.Staff.on.The.Same.Page-898376.shtml

* mention Penn State

* chart of Michigan versus other top academic-athletic programs
grad rate archive: http://www.ncaa.org/grad_rates/archive.html

* If you chart Michigan's grad rates against the US News and World Report academic rankings, Michigan has the worst discrepancy between overall academic stature for an institution, and abysmal grad rates for its football players. 

Briefly, I think you can point to four factors that contribute to ND's high rates:

1 - Environment - our football players are immersed in the student body at large. They live with non-athletes that are highly motivated students. Peer group is a powerful influence on 18- to 22-year-olds. While athletic dorms are no longer allowed, most schools seem to have de facto athletic living arrangements (I know this exists at Miami, Tennessee and even UVa) and their student bodies generally regard their football teams as mercenaries. At ND, FB players room with non-FB players (at least their freshmen year) and, like the non-athletes, are influenced by the experience of being surrounded by people that are doing the work to graduate.

2 - Expectations - we don't cordon off the FB-players from the rest of the student body in academic ghettos like kinesiology and parks & recreation. We expect them to get meaningful degrees. We expect them to take school seriously. Most people respond to high expectations, and I'm sure most people can think of a time when they achieved more than they thought they would because a coach, teacher or boss set the bar high and expected them to cross it. Conversely, when you tell people they belong in a crap major, it shouldn't be surprising that they don't do the work necessary to graduate.

3 - Requirements - there are consequences to not progressing towards a degree at ND. We require everyone to have a major after freshman year. None of this "undeclared" as a junior bullshit. Also, Cook has put the forth the canard that we slide people through/ND is easy, but Michigan has standards and that's why their grad rate is so slow. Yet at ND, players experience academic repercussions before their eligibility has expired (see Julius Jones). If people were getting rubber-stamped, this wouldn't be the case. However, at Michigan these guys fail to graduate while remaining eligible all four years. To me, it's a lot more suspicious when academic problems only emerge once a guy has outlived his usefulness on the football field.

4 - Self-selection - We can't give the institution all the credit. You have to respect the hard work and achievements of guys like Dean Brown and T. Rice that didn't enjoy the privileged education the typical ND student had before college. Also, high graduation rates create positive feedback loops, and low graduation rates create negative feedback loops. Guys that care about education and are thus more likely to do the work necessary to graduate - guys like Johnson, Hunter and Slaughter - are drawn to schools with high graduation rates. Prospects that aren't repulsed by low graduation rates during the recruiting process are probably a lot less likely to do the work necessary to graduate when they finally arrive on campus.

are ND and michigan recruiting out of the same pool of players? I would think so.  ND players picking ND over Michigan for academic reasons.  Even if Michigan fans could give a shit about academics, they should pay attention when they're losing recruits because of it:

"If you're killing on the football field but none of your football players are graduating, why do I want to go to that school?" said [Ethan] Johnson, who for the past two summers interned at the Portland law firm Stahancyk, Kent, Johnson & Hook. "It's a school. You go 'cause you want to get an education first."

At Michigan, he found out there was one other player in the business program.

"And he was the punter," Johnson said, laughing. "Is there anything else I can say about that?"


Slaughter was recruited by ND assistants Bill Lewis and Corwin Brown. Brown, ND's first-year defensive coordinator, played at Michigan.

"(Brown) said if he would have gotten offered by Notre Dame," Slaughter said, "he would have gone to Notre Dame."

latest quotes

Jamoris, from GoBlueWolverine on 5/20

"Although Jamoris intends on making his college decision sometime this
fall, he would like to visit some schools this summer. One of the
schools that he said he really wants to visit is Michigan. In addition
to Notre Dame, LSU, Alabama, Georgia and other schools, Michigan has
offered Jamoris. "The most important factors to me in a school are the
graduation rates for athletes and academics. I want to go to a school
that will give me good academic support and where I can receive a
quality education and degree for after football."


"Once you go to Notre Dame, you can do whatever major you want. You're not discouraged to stay away from some majors. I felt like I'd been talking to players from other schools and they weren't necessarily doing majors that I wanted to do. I want to major in business and at Notre Dame there were football players majoring in business, engineering, other serious majors. There weren't a lot of guys doing general studies."

"As soon as I saw the whole campus, talked to the business school and found out that they graduate just about 99 percent of their football players," Johnson said, "I was ready to lock it down."