The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, September 20, 1993 - 3
With his impending retirement,
Michigan's AD discusses his career
Since being named the interim ath-
letic director to replace Bo Schem-
bechler in January of 1990, much has
occurred in the tenure of Jack
Weidenbach as the leader of the Michi-
gan athletic department. On the field,
16 Wolverine teams have won Big Ten
championships and the department was
named by the USA Today as the "Col-
lege Athletic Program of the Year"for
the 1992-93academicyear. Offthefield
renovated, with the dedication of
Schembechler Hall, Cff Keen Arena
and the Marie Hartwig Building along
with renovations to Michigan Stadium.
When Weidenbach, Michigan's sev-
enth athletic director, steps down at the
end of next June, he will be replaced by
current Campaign for Michigan direc-
tor Joe Roberson.
Recently, Daily Sports Editor Ryan
Herrington spoke with Weidenbach
about the past, present andfuture of the
Michigan athletic department.
Daily: Can you give me your im-
pressions of Joe Roberson and the quali-
ties he'll bring to the athletic director's
position when the transition is finally
Weidenbach: I've known Joe
Roberson for a long time and what Joe
is, is an administrator. He has great
administrative skills and that's what's
requiredin the department. He willbring
those skills down here together with the
understanding of the mission of a re-
search university. That's going to serve
him well in this position. I think he'll do
D: He does seem to have a tremen-
dous amount of experience in fund rais-
ing and business-related activities as
well. Do you feel this is going to be the
criteria formany athletic directors in the
future? Is this something that other can-
didates for athletic director positions
are going to be held up against?
W: Fund raising is an element, but
it's not the overriding requirement for
thisposition. AsI said, thisposition is an
administrative one and understand the
* mission of the university and that's in
my judgment a very strong background
of Joe Roberson and a strong outlook
Sohe's got these important elements
in my judgment. Fund raising just hap-
pens to be one of those things. Believe
me, it's not all that important because I
think his business management skills
will behis primary assets in carrying out
D: Are there any other skills you see
vital to the position?
W: Joe is also an individual who
gets along with people and that's an
important skill and one I often mention.
For any administrator one of the
most important parts of the job is to be
essentially a planner, to look ahead and
Joe has that ability. We can't look to
next year without an indication of what
intercollegiate sports are going to be
like at the turn of the century. All of the
administrators have that vision and Joe
has that vision.
D: There are many other large uni-
versities with large athletic programs
which seem to have come upon hard
times lately. At the same time except for
the one incident with baseball (Editor's
note: In 1989, the program was put on
NCAA probation when it was discov-
ered players had sold football programs
and kept the profits), Michigan athletics
has been run cleanly and professionally.
What do you think makes the Michigan
athletic department unique?
W: I think, as in any organization,
what you have going for you is tradi-
tion. To come into the University of
Michigan athletic department you have
to look back at Fielding H. Yost and
Fritz Crisler and Don Canham and Bo
Schembechler and even the guy who's
in there right now, and you've got to
look back at that tradition of excellence
in athletics. That's something that does
make it unique.
We've been also fortunate enough
to be successful which builds tradition.
You have to be very fortunate enough to
be successful, which gives you the re-
sources to run a comprehensive pro-
to enhance them, you wouldn't be
backandtheprograms would go down-
Like any business or institution,
you don't stand still. You either go
forward or go back. What we're trying
to do with Michigan athletics is be
visionary and look ahead.
D: College athletics in general is
becoming more and more complex.
What do you see as the most difficult
issue facing Michigan andotherNCAA
schools in the future?
W: There's no question that the
issue of gender equity is something
that you're going to be faced with
because with gender equity comes a
cost. How to finance this increase in
sponsored sports is a real big issue.
The other thing is how to face ris-
ing costs in the classic situation. Higher
education in the athletic department is
no different than any part of higher
education. It's a very intensive people
business and so the cost of higher
education and the costs of running the
athletic department outstretch normal
We don't have a machine that can
replace a coach and the cost of provid-
ing grants-in-aid for student-athletes
continues to escalate. The financing of
it and how you handle it in the future is
areally big problem. And when you've
got gender equity wrapped into that
then another problem is how to not
only meet the requirements of Title IX
butmeet the requirements ofourBoard
of Regents because we have a policy
of equity. So those are the big things.
Of course, the other demands are to
keep the facilities up to code, so they
can service the student-athlete. The
real goal of the athletic department is
sometimes obscure because our sports
which attract the media, like football,
men's basketball and hockey, it seems
like we're in the entertainment busi-
But what we're really here for is to
provide the student-athlete with a very
positive experience. You will find when
you talk to both men and women that
they really believe that their athletic
experiences was probably the most
positive of their college career. That's
what the goal is. We try to integrate this
into their educational effort and we
spend a lot of money to do it, with
student support services and things
which we do to make sure that the
decide whatreally isgenderequityrather
than schools and colleges themselves.
What's going to come out of them is
very important in that whatever we do,
we do it financially.
It puts the burden on this athletic
department to make sure we fill that
stadium and to have competitive bas-
ketball teams but in a sense it's unfair to
put on the backs the responsibility of
funding the whole program but essen-
tially, that's what we do.
D: But you definitely see Michigan
continuing to offer multiple sports? Do
you ever see a time where the depart-
'We try to make our
student-athletes as they
mature in the program
understand that what
we're giving them - that
opportunity to give them a
degree - will be worth it
in the long run.'
ment will change this?
W: It depends what happens in the
future. You might be forced to. You
don't want to cut or reduce those rev-
enue-generating sports so that they're
losing revenue. I've always said if you
play Ivy League football, you'll get Ivy
And that'snot what we're interested
in. Our football, basketball and hockey
teams compete at a very high level and
sodo our women's teams. Ihope we can
continue to operate areally comprehen-
sive program. A lot of it will be deter-
mined by court decisions. But we are
committed, there is no question that we
are committed to meet our obligations
D: At times it seems that there are so
many restrictions placed on student-
athletes by the NCAA. It seems that
there is an awful lot of bureaucracy in
college sports. Doyou thinktheNCAA's
procedure will be simplified?
W: That's a great question. I don't
know. I've thought about that for along
time and there are a lot ofquestions. You
wonder if the bureaucracy is so en-
trenched out ttere and ever since I've
been here I've always heard them say,
'Well, we're going to simplify."
But every time you pass a rule you
make it more complicated and every
year you're talking about more modifi-
time you add something to the overhead
it's taking away the dollars that should
be going into the programs for student-
athletes. It's a disappointment of mine
that there hasn'tbeen a simplification of
this process. It's really grown more
complicated. That's one of the things,
now that I am leaving, that I really regret
we didn't accomplish.
The other thing I regret is the financ-
ing. I don'tknow, one of these days you
may end up going to a need-based aid,
where you do give grants-in-aid auto-
matically but you give them out based
on need. It would come out of the ath-
letic department but it would be admin-
istered by some other agency.
D: You mentioned earlier how at
times fans lose their focus on college
athletics and fill the stadium and Crisler
Arena yet there are many other student-
athletes who go almost totally unno-
ticed. Do you think college athletics
itself is almost losing its focus?
W: In the day and age of television,
with the whole marketing of sports,
whether we like it or not, we're in the
entertainment business. So you have to
keep reminding everybody that you're
dealing with students. No matter how
professional they appear to the outsider,
these are still people who are going to
The reason we spend the amount of
time and effort and money on support-
ing student support services is we want
to give every one of them an opportu-
nity to earn a degree. We still work very
hard at that whereas the outside media,
particularly those who are not involved
with college, look upon it as entertain-
We want to keep people informed of
this winning record, not on the fact that
these are a bunch of kids that are 18-to
22-years old. It's fortunate and unfortu-
nate in a way that student-athletes come
here particularly in those sports where
you have an opportunity to make a
living, believing that they can eventu-
ally succeed in their sport. We all know
that doesn't happen so we try continu-
ally to make our athletes become more
realistic in what life offers them and
that's hard to do.
We lost two hockey players this year
(Aaron Ward and Cam Stewart) which
was disappointing for the coach (Red
Berenson) and disappointing for me,
but with the amount of money they
offer, it's really hard. Certainly with
Chris Webber, what more could you
ask? It'sjust too bad that happened, but
that's the way it's going to go.
We try to make our student-athletes
as they mature in the program under-
stand that what we're giving them -
that opportunity to give them a degree
- will be worth it in the long run.
There are many great student-ath-
leteshere, bothmenand women, who've
been outstanding performers and they
get recognized by an NCAA scholar-
ship or something like that but it might
appear in a small place in the newspa-
per. It's never really an important thing
to the general public. They don't care.
D: When the transition becomes fi-
nal next July, how would you like your
tenure as athletic director to be remem-
W: Well, I guess I'd like to have
people believe that we took a good
athletic department and moved it fur-
ther along and I know when Joe
Roberson comes in here, he'll keep it
going. I think you look at what's here,
they've been a great help to me here,
both the ones that were here and the
one's that we added. And I'd just like to
think that the department is a little better
when I leave than when I came in. If
people can look at that, I'll be very
~The R. H. Factor
Roberson inherits a
I don't know whether to envy Joe Roberson or pity him.
After all, being named Michigan's eighth athletic director seems like a
dream come true for any person who has ever considered getting involved in
college sports. Being in charge of the No. 1 athletic department in the
country, according to the recently published Gourman Report, is an unbe-
lievable opportunity, as is becoming a part of the tradition begun by Fielding
H. Yost and nurtured for the past 80 years by his successors. Directing 22
sports of which eight have won national championships is something that
few of his peers could equal.
What more could a person ask for?
Yet as intercollegiate athletics looks to the horizon, the view is disap-
pointingly gray and cloudy. The national governing body, the NCAA, has
become a bureaucratic wasteland with rules so obscure that member schools
must have separate faculty keeping up to date on whether Jane Q. Athlete
can take a job sweeping floors or whether it has been decided that that will
unfairly improve her ground strokes on the tennis court.
The NCAA, however, seems to be but an extension of the various
athletic departments themselves. When discussing the future of college
sports with athletic administrators, it appears that the student-athletes
themselves have begun to take a backseat to the issues that concern them.
Financial matters, competitiveness and the catch phrase of athletic
departments throughout the country - gender equity - have begun to
skew the intent of college sports. It is the decision-making process itself
which is getting all the attention from athletic administrators.
And the ones who are affected by the decisions continue to participate in
their sports, winning league championships while wallowing in anonymity.
These student-athletes are left to wonder what will drop first - the records
they are trying to break, or their scholarships.
After approval for the position by the Board of Regents later this month,
Roberson will begin a nine-month transition from his job as director of the
Campaign for Michigan to his new office on State Street. In these months to
come, he will be exposed to much of the good of college athletics.
Michigan's fall sports are at an all-time high. The men's and women's
cross country squads are both currently among the top five in the country.
The field hockey team is in the top 10.
However, it won't take much longer than a Tyrone Wheatley kickoff
return before Mr. Roberson also sees the dangers that lie ahead. A two-tiered
system among existing sports has all but crystallized, calling into question,
to some extent, the purpose of college athletics.
On the one hand are the "revenue-generating" sports which, as even
Michigan's soon-to-be-retired athletic director Jack Weidenbach admits, are
in the business of entertainment. On the other hand are the rest of the sports,
labeled "non-revenue," where the participants compete in relative obscurity,
while fulfilling the vision of being a student-athlete.
- Reality is that without football and men's basketball filling their stadiums
to near capacity, the athletic department could not fund a majority of its
current sports, much less any additions which could occur in the future. In
effect, the tail is wagging the dog, for it is the 100 or so student-athletes who
compete in the revenue-generating sports who, for all intents and purposes,
determine the fate for the rest of the athletic department.
But Roberson must not forget the rest of the student-athletes who make
the Michigan athletic department so strong. Without the efforts of these non-
revenue sports, the school would not have received USA Today's "College
Athletic Program of the Year." There is more to this department than simply
football and basketball.
Roberson has said that he compares his appointment as athletic director
to being the president of the United States in that people often fantasize
about that position thinking it would be neat, but never really believing
they'd be in it someday. Well, someday has come for him and with it are an
awful lot of tough decisions to be made.
, Roberson, during the press conference that announced his appointment,
said that three areas of particular importance would be addressed while he
was athletic director - gender equity, funding of higher education and
maintaining competitive but clean athletic programs. All of these are noble
pursuits and I wish him only the best of luck in correctly addressing those
However, I also hope that Roberson will keep in mind exactly who he is
working for in his position as AD. It is not the television networks or the
alumni that he is supposed to be benefiting. It is the student-athletes who
participate each and everyday on the athletic campus. The focus must
remain on them, or else the entire point of intercollegiate athletics is lost.
With all the pressure that he will face, I understand that Roberson has a
daunting task at hand. The economic trap of sports is quite alluring and I
don't envy him.
I guess that means that I pity him.
The R.H. Factor will appear every other week in SPORTSMonday.
'or any administrator one of the most Important parts
of the job Is to be essentially a planner, to look ahead
and Joe has that ability. We can't look to next year
without an Indication of what intercollegiate sports
are going to be like at the turn of the century. All of
the administrators have that vision and Joe has that
student has as much of a total experi-
ence as they can when they're here.
D: In regards to the gender equity
issue, which has seen Michigan both
add and subtract teams, and you men-
tion the cost of it, do you see addition
or subtraction in the future?
W: When the decision was made to
phase out men's gymnastics (last
March), the understanding was, unfor-
tunately, that men's gymnastics was a
thecountry that schools aredropping it
and I think we're down to about 32
schools. The plans are to phase it outas
I think again that you have to con-
tinually review what sports are popu-
lar in high schools. Soccer, as an ex-
ample, isavery, verypopularsportand
it's a popular sport on our campus. So
it's logical that women's soccer should
be introduced and the way we're doing
that is phasing out men's gymnastics
and adding women's soccer. In effect,
we're doing thatfinancial neutral. One
offsets the other.
But a real difficult case faces the
Board of Control and the athletic di-
rector and the president in the sense
that men's soccer is very popular and
the question is how can you add it
without getting everything all out of
cations. This is the initial draft for our
convention in January and it's already
got 65 different things in here (to vote
on) and when the second publication
comes out, you'll find it's probably
closer to 100. All the time you do some-
thing like that you make it more compli-
I don't know how to simplify this.
We took a strong position here atMichi-
gan against certification, which is some-
thing which is now being introduced
(Editor's note: Certiication, in which
the NCAA would subject member insti-
tutions to routine inspections, is being
voted on by NCAA members in Jane-
ary). We see certification as similar to
accreditation and so you're going to
havea whole bunch ofpeople coming in
for peer review.
Our Board of Control and faculty
people really thought that was a burden
that you don't need because this depart-
ment is subject to both internal and
external audits which are controlled by
the Board of Regents.
The athletic director answers directly
to the president who has ultimate re-
sponsibility. To go through that kind of
thing, in my judgment, is what came out
of the Knight Commission's recom-
mendations. It seems to me that it made
it a very complicated, expensive opera-
tion. That was supposed to be this air-
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