The University Record, February 14, 2000

Bollinger accepts Goss’ resignation as athletic director

By Jane R. Elgass

Bollinger and Goss at the Feb. 8 press conference. Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services
President Lee C. Bollinger will be meeting with Athletic Department staff over the next few days in the wake of the announcement Feb. 8 of the resignation of Tom Goss as athletic director.

Bollinger and Goss each spoke with Athletic Department staff in a group meeting Feb. 9 to discuss Goss’s resignation and the transition period ahead. The president also is meeting individually with staff members at their request. Bollinger said he hopes to name a search advisory committee and to make an announcement on an interim appointment within the next several weeks.

Bollinger expressed regret last week in accepting Goss’s resignation, emphasizing repeatedly during a packed Feb. 8 news conference that the decision was the result of discussions between the two of them over many months about the future of the Athletic Department. Goss was named to the post in September 1997. His resignation is effective at the end of March.

“I want to express my admiration and gratitude for the many qualities that Tom has brought to the position of athletic director,” the president said. “He, and we, can take pride in his achievements. Tom has a deep emotional connection with the University, rooted in his days here as a student-athlete. His dedication to the department and the University has been exceptional. He has labored always with the understanding that all his actions must serve the ultimate goal of the education and nurturing of our students. He has helped maintain Michigan’s role on the national stage of intercollegiate athletic policy. And he has as good a grasp of what ‘tradition’ really means as anyone I know.

“For many months, Tom and I have been discussing the future of the Athletic Department and what we require to live up to our aspirations. What lies behind the decision we announce together today is far too complex for simple prepared summaries, and it would be wholly inappropriate for us to try to offer such. The future of the department is both Tom’s and my only concern.

“This is the right decision for the University,” Bollinger added.

In a voice that occasionally choked, Goss said he came to the University “to provide leadership to the Athletic Department and to accomplish many things. Every decision that I have made was made from the heart and in the best interest of the University of Michigan and its student-athletes. In the last 29 months, not everything has been accomplished, but a pathway has been charted for the next athletic director.”

Citing the core values he articulated shortly after he arrived on campus—honesty and integrity, accountability and responsibility, respect and compassion, a competitive spirit, and the “team must come first,” Goss thanked the members of the Michigan family who have been supportive of the department’s progress.

“I thank all of you for your support, your willingness to take risks, and your commitment to attaining the highest principles and values possible, during a time when this was not popular in athletics. It has not been easy, but the positives far outweigh any negatives. Everything we have done has been for the students—students of the past, students of the present and students of the future. This job is working for the students 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Though asked repeatedly the reasons for Goss’ resignation, Bollinger, as did Goss, refused comment, the president reiterating that “decisions about personnel are made every day. There are discussions all the time about what is best for the University, best for individuals. It just so happens that this decision, because of the public exposure, makes it seem very unusual. Yet, it’s not.”

Personnel decisions in the University are dealt with privately, Bollinger said, and “it is not reasonable or fair to bring the issues out into the open. This is a decision we [Bollinger and Goss] arrived at.

“I have enormous regard for Tom. Three years ago I sensed immediately a person with qualities I admired, and I feel that way today. We are fortunate to have had Tom and all those qualities and character with us.”

And while Bollinger also refused to acknowledge during questioning at the press conference any direct connection between the resignation and the recent basketball program problems, he made it clear that he considers the Athletic Department part of the University and that the values of the University must come first.

Responding to a question as to whether Goss’s departure signals a power struggle, with the central administration attempting to assume greater control, Bollinger said: “First, the Athletic Department is part of the University and it absolutely must serve the interests of the University. A great university cannot survive on any other principle than that.”

Second, as a matter of University policy, the Athletic Department “is granted autonomy to make the decisions it needs to make to run its programs.” This is no different than the autonomy granted to academic units, for example, Bollinger explained. “This is a granting of autonomy within the broader principle.

“Intercollegiate athletics are more complicated today and their role is under some threat,” he said. “I believe strongly in the values and virtues of intercollegiate athletics. They are part and parcel of what it means to educate students in the modern world, but it is more difficult to do that today than it was 10, 20 or 30 years ago.

“The issues are more difficult today,” he said, adding that “the University is more involved in athletics than you may think. Everyone in my administration has spent an enormous amount of time [on athletics]. That means this [athletic director] is a critical role in the University. Tom has done many good things and that is what I want to emphasize.”

The president added that while he is a “fan of every one of our sports” and reacts to wins and losses as do others, “it is extremely important to keep this in perspective and to remember this is part of a broader university. People are here to get an education.”

Bollinger also was asked whether Goss’s resignation is related to a perceived or real image problem.

“We must be concerned with the image of the program. We would be crazy not to, especially because we are a public institution. Our roots are in a state-created institution with the highest possible aspirations.”

The University’s “publicness brings a form of accountability,” Bollinger said, with expectations of honesty and integrity and an assumption that “we’ll play by the rules.”

“If we believe there is a misperception out there, then we have an obligation to try to correct it. If there is an accurate perception out there [that something is wrong] and we agree, we have an obligation to correct it doubly so.

“I do think,” Bollinger added, “that there are questions the public is asking that are similar to the ones we’re asking about collegiate athletics overall. There are problems with public confidence and we have to address those. Today is not about that.

“No one should think for a moment that they can be solved by one person or university. These are really, really difficult problems and we have to keep working at them as hard as we possibly can.”

Goss, who was named the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Intercollegiate Athletics in September 1997, announced his resignation in prepared remarks.

He cited the positives achieved during his tenure, including the scholastic achievements and community service involvement of student athletes; strides made in gender equity; national championships in football, hockey and men’s gymnastics; and the expansion of Michigan Stadium. He also pointed to national changes in policies related to wrestling training and gambling among student-athletes that he helped to bring about.

“The most important accomplishment,” Goss noted, “is the voice I have given to the student-athletes, to have input on Athletic Department policy,” through twice-monthly meetings with small groups of team members so they can “define and articulate issues to improve what we do.

“I believe,” Goss concluded his prepared statement, “that while it is time for me to step aside, a course has been defined to continue to lead this department to great accomplishments.”

Despite these positive accomplishments, the Athletic Department also has faced a number of problems over the past three years. As with collegiate athletic programs nationwide, the U-M has had to grapple with increasingly difficult issues, including commercialization of revenue sports, the “professionalization” of student-athletes and ensuring equity between genders in participation opportunities and between revenue and non-revenue sports.

Intense media scrutiny has been focused on the men’s basketball program, beginning early in 1997 with investigations into connections between booster Ed Martin and members of the basketball team, and most recently turning to questions surrounding the NCAA suspension of Jamal Crawford. The department also has suffered financial woes, with a $2.8 million deficit recorded for FY 1999.

Bollinger’s focus over the next few weeks will turn to the search for a new athletic director.

Asked during the news conference what kind of a person he’d be looking for, the president explained that he is “always open to looking anywhere to find the best people, not only people with certain backgrounds. We’re a community that works together for the best interests of the University.

“There are very difficult jobs in the University,” Bollinger said. “The athletic director is hard, but so are other jobs. We work to find the best people and I’m confident we can do that. I don’t feel we’re in jeopardy in attracting over the long term the best person.

“The goal of the University, every part of the University, is to be the best at what we do. That is part of the ethos of this University. This is true with the Athletic Department, taking into account its multiple values. We will continue to strive for that goal and I’m confident we will succeed.”