a collection of articles and links on
the Michigan academic discussion, spring-summer of '07
(collected by BGS)
Jim Harbaugh's first summer job was painting Stanford Stadium.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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
"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
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.''
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
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.''
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
over backward to provide the resources so they can be academically
successful,'' Martin said. "I'm really pleased with that whole area.''
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.
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
One category where Michigan struggles,
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.''
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.
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.''
(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
"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."
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
The combination of criticisms from players past and present, not to
mention the current coach, is why Harbaugh is one angry alum right
"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
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
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
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
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
Bo Schembechler did things his way, without excuse, without debate and
his way turned out to be the best way.
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
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
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
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
The NFL provides a dream life, which Bergeron, Betts and Becker never
reached. But the three found success off the field.
* 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
* the pool of schools doing it "the right way": Duke, NW, the
academies, Stanford, ND, Vanderbilt. BC
* Notre Dame links
* 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:
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]
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
"And he was the punter," Johnson said, laughing. "Is there anything
else I can say about that?"
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
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
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."