The University Record, March 12, 2001

Martin aims to advance U-M athletics ‘academically, athletically, financially’

By Joel Seguine
News and Information Services

One year to the day after he walked into Weidenbach Hall as the interim—and now permanent—athletic director, Bill Martin delivered the 34th William McInally Lecture March 7 in the School of Business Administration’s Hale Auditorium.

The McInally Lecture, begun in 1966 to honor the memory of Regent William K. McInally, is supported by an endowment fund established by McInally’s family and friends, many of whom were present for Martin’s talk.

Martin said he selected the date as an appropriate time to talk about the state of U-M athletics and the challenges he faces as the 10th director of what columnist Frank DeFord has called “perhaps the grandest athletic program under one academic roof.”

To arrive at a title for his lecture, Martin said he looked back, first 10 years and then 20 years. Acknowledging the presence of Paul McCracken, emeritus professor of business, economics and public policy and the 1991 McInally lecturer, Martin pointed to the prescience of McCracken’s lecture, “It’s a Great Time to Be Alive, Economically Speaking,” delivered on the eve of the greatest expansion in U.S. history. However, Martin jokingly said, perhaps the 1981 lecture topic of former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, “Managing the Defense Department: Why It Can’t Be Done” provided a better model for his talk, paraphrased as “‘Managing the Athletic Department: Why It Can’t Be Done,’ but we know that’s not true,” he said.

Continuing in the historical mode, Martin spoke of the first commercial venture in college sports, which occurred 150 years ago—a rowing contest between Yale and Harvard universities sponsored by a railroad magnate, where Franklin Pierce, the 14th president, stumped for the Democratic nomination.

“Just last year, then-vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney attended the Michigan-Michigan State game to work for the Republican ticket in the elections. It seems intercollegiate sports haven’t changed all that much in 150 years,” Martin said.

“At Michigan, sports represents 1 per cent of the University’s budget but 99 percent of its visibility,” Martin observed. “The focus on college sports has been an evolutionary process. In many ways, intercollegiate sports have never been in better shape, especially now, since they provide great opportunities for women.” But it is also the most challenging time for sports.

“There are many crucial challenges facing Michigan and all major schools,” he said, “beginning with funding. If you were to aggregate all 970 schools in the NCAA, their annual revenue would total $3 billion, but these schools are spending $4.1 billion. The NCAA philosophy calling for financial independence of athletic programs has not been successful. NCAA President Cedric Dempsey has called for a new financial model, declaring that costs must be controlled,” Martin said. “Pressure to be competitive has pushed many athletic programs—and their institutions—into great debt.”

Some schools, he noted, have chosen to control costs by cutting sports. “Just this past weekend, Kansas announced it was dropping men’s swimming and tennis. The reasons cited were cost run-ups for scholarships, gender equity requirements and travel. Nebraska has just called for a cap on expenses. Wisconsin dropped men’s baseball and Eastern Michigan men’s tennis.”

“It’s not in the Michigan tradition to eliminate sports,” Martin declared. However, “in the last five years, our expenses have increased 52 percent, while revenue has grown just 19 percent. A major expense is scholarships, for which we pay the full cost as set by the University’s central administration. We lead the Big Ten in these grants-in-aid totaling $9 million. At the same time, we have a $5 million deficit, which we plan to eliminate over the next two fiscal years. We are cutting costs wherever we can. For instance, we’ve eliminated four senior administrative staff positions and economized on travel expenses,” Martin explained.

“We need to find new revenue sources as well as increase football ticket revenues. We will add new seating in Yost Arena this spring, and we are studying the feasibility of adding enclosed seating and very limited advertising in Michigan Stadium. We’re proud of the new seven-year contract we signed with Nike. It pays full cost for seven full-time sports and the cheerleading squad. In fundraising, our goal is to raise $180 million to endow scholarships. Currently, only $10 million of our $40 million endowment can be used for that purpose. I know the Michigan family understands the need for funds to maintain our tradition of excellence,” Martin said.

Looking at some issues other than finances. Martin said he believes in a return to the idea of one year of successful residency with three years of eligibility for football and basketball—and all sports, if necessary, to comply with federal law. “Show me the grades first,” he declared. “We have taken steps to develop closer ties with the educational campus. We’ve offered faculty a chance to be a coach or athletic director for a day. Provost Nancy Cantor is working with faculty to create a summer bridge program for incoming freshmen who need a transitional period to adjust to the rigors of college. And we are developing a distance-learning program, again with the provost’s support, for athletes who left early to pursue a professional career and want to complete their degrees. We’re concerned about graduation rates as well. Obviously, we need improvement in football and [men’s] basketball.”

Sportsmanship also is a concern. “Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany recently reported on a nationwide trend of greater unsportsmanlike behavior, particularly in football. In the Big Ten, we have seen a 20 percent increase in personal fouls in the last two years. The commissioners of the major conferences will create a special sportsmanship commission to study and make recommendations,” Martin said.

Finally, Martin talked about what makes Michigan, Michigan. “If you asked most Michigan grads, they’d say that the U-M is both big and aspires to be world-class in everything it does. Michigan is also about tradition. Fritz Crisler said that tradition is not something you can go down to the corner grocer to buy. You have to earn it decade by decade. And Michigan fans—they’re passionate and loyal. Michigan Stadium on a fall football Saturday is a place to forget the pressures of life and relax. A place where you can dress funny and yell your heart out.

“It’s one year exactly since I started out as interim athletic director,” Martin concluded. “While I serve as permanent A.D., it’s my desire to advance Michigan athletics academically, athletically, ethically and financially.”