Lee Huntsman's Progress Report on Athletics
April 27, 2004
Seattle - Here is the opening statement from University of Washington president Lee Huntsman at Tuesday's press conference providing a Progress Report on athletics:
My purpose in asking you to come this afternoon was to give you an update about the various reviews and decisions that we have underway in our intercollegiate athletics program. My brief tenure as president of the University of Washington has been, shall we say, a time of unusual problems in intercollegiate athletics. It started in February of last year when Rick Neuheisel was flirting with the 49ers and in the year since last June we've had a number of issues.
I grouped those issues into four categories. The first category is Coach Neuheisel himself. The second one is a set of violations that we reported to the Pac-10 and to the NCAA concerning Final Four betting pools and some recruiting violations related to boat rides. A third category is medical care in our softball program, and a fourth category is organizational reviews and changes in the athletic department itself.
I want to emphasize that as we have approached these issues we have tried to be quite systematic about this. What I mean by that is, our goal has been a really thorough understanding of the facts and the events. Another goal has been to be very fair to the individuals involved. And a third goal has been to reach appropriate management decisions and to reach those decisions when the evidence warranted it. And as you will see, over the course of the year we have done our various reviews and investigations and made decisions along the way. Throughout all of this, another aspiration of ours has been to be very clear about our values and to keep the welfare of the student athlete at the center of our approach to all these issues.
So, what's new? With respect to Neuheisel, nothing is new. With respect to the Pac-10, that investigation is over. The CEO's of the Pac-10 schools approved the recommendations of the enforcement committee and the final decisions have been made, including the enforcement recommendations, and as you know the most important part of that is the Pac-10 did not find failure to monitor.
In the case of the NCAA investigation of those same issues, that process is underway. And what's new to report, is that here at the University of Washington, we have been moving mountains to accommodate the NCAA's schedule. We were determined to make the June 11 hearing date that they offered to us rather than wait for the fall, in spite of the fact that we have a major conflict with a Board of Regents meeting at a commencement exercise in Tacoma. So we literally have reshuffled the deck and a number of us will miss the Tacoma Commencement in order to be in Indianapolis for that hearing with the NCAA and our regents meeting has been restructured.
Another thing that's new on the NCAA front is that yesterday we submitted our response to the allegations, and a number of those were self-reported violations coupled with some allegations by the NCAA, one of which includes lack of institutional control, an allegation which we argue against very vigorously. At the same time over this last year there have been a number of reviews and decisions toward renewal within intercollegiate athletics. Many of these are familiar to you and I'll just tick them off and try to get what's new.
With respect to the re-certification process you will recall that the NCAA orchestrates a major evaluation of athletic programs on a seven-year cycle and we are up for re-certification, as we were certified several years ago. That involves a triumvirate of three review committees for self-evaluations that make a lengthy report to the NCAA that involves a carefully examination by outside reviewers and a set of recommendations. All of that stretches over a year and a half and that process is well underway. What's new is the committees are appointed and at work and have begun the self-study process.
Another element of the last year is the renewal of a tradition of faculty involvement in student athletics and that comes in two forms: Rob (Aronson) is the faculty athletic representative who was chosen carefully to represent the faculty in the daily operations of the athletic program, to oversee many aspects of compliance, relationship with the national requirements and so forth. Rob Aronson has served with great distinction for two five-year terms and has come to the end of his second term and as he steps down, Pat Dobel of the Evans School has been selected as the incoming faculty athletic representative.
Another component of that faculty tradition is the faculty oversight committee called the Academic Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics. This is a committee that concerns itself primarily with the student side of the student athletes and tries to keep track of how well they're doing, to nurture athletes' success academically and make recommendations. That committee has been in existence for some time. We have rejuvenated it, and the members are off to a vigorous start.
Another update concerns the search for the athletic director. That committee was appointed a while back and has been actively getting input from a variety of sources. Just last week they selected an executive search firm and they are already speaking to potential candidates from around the country. We expect a very active search there.
I would comment in that context that Dr. Emmert and I have been in regular conversation and he and I both see the search for athletic director as particularly instrumental because we see the issues of athletics not simply as a matter of fixing things, because we're well on the road to fixing things. We also see it very much as a matter of preparing for the future.
What we see in the future are some very seismic shifts in the way intercollegiate athletics occur at Division I. There are new rules being (inaudible) around academic progress, which I think are going to change the calculus of how one recruits student athletes. We need an athletic director who is prepared and experienced but also is well-equipped to lead our program into the changing world of Division I athletics.
In the area of compliance, you will recall that we commissioned an external review by an organization called the Compliance Group to come in and review our compliance shop and offer recommendations. They did that and we are now well underway implementing their recommendations. And as we've has personnel turnover in the compliance shop, we have utilized some very excellent interim help to run that. Athletic Director Thompson is now interviewing candidates for the Compliance Director job and he reports an outstanding pool of candidates for which we are very grateful.
Another component of our undertaking is what I have referred to as a "culture review". And what I mean by that is I would like somebody to come in and simply talk at great length to our student athletes, to our coaches, and to our staff and find out how they think about themselves, how they think about athletics on this campus, how they see themselves juggling those values that we always talk about in academic success, athletic success, and playing by the rules. How does it feel on the ground, inside of intercollegiate athletics? In concert with that, how do professors on campus perceive student athletes? What is it like to be a student athlete at the University of Washington? What is the culture like?
We have a two person committee coming. They are Bob Lawless, President of Tulsa University, who has a lot of experience in athletics and Gene Corrigan, a former athletic director and a former conference executive. Those two will be coming later this spring to conduct this culture review, which we hope will be a complement to the other reviews and thought processes we have going on.
The final point about our internal reviews and thinking are quite apart from any of events in the athletic department. UW Medicine, which has the responsibility for the medical care of student athletes, and has had so for several years, decided that this was a good time to make a review of how they're doing. We have had nothing but excellent results from their care, but they have decided, given the size of and perplexity of the program, that they wanted to review how they were doing, and see if there were any improvements that they might implement. I don't expect any major changes there, and we are very grateful for their proactive approach.
When the State Department of Health cited one of our volunteer physicians, Bill Scheyer, and one of our former athletic trainers, Criag Moriwaki for improper methods of caring for our players on the softball team I decided to commission an internal investigation. The investigative team consisted of a veteran faculty member-- a member with deep experience in athletics--a professional investigator from our Office of Investigation and Complaint, a faculty member from our Pharmacy Department, and a pharmacist from Harborview Medical Center. The charge to this group was to investigate the medical care in the softball program. And importantly, we asked them not to set out to duplicate the work of the Department of Health.
The purview of this investigation was to find out what had really gone on in the medical cafe of our softball players and what were the implications for management decisions. The report from that investigation team is now in and is available to you, and I think you will see that it is a very high quality effort. It is certainly thorough, they interviewed 42 individuals, some of them multiple times. I want to acknowledge that it was a great deal of work for those on the investigative team it and called on them to postpone other aspects of their lives. In order to do this they have made a great sacrifice to conduct this investigation for us. On behalf of the university I want to express how grateful we are for their high quality work.
We knew going into this investigation that we would be confronted with decisions about personnel and about policies and about the organization and accountability that accompanies the softball program. So, in accordance with that we asked the investigative team to work to a standard of investigation that was appropriate to management decisions, not some judicial standard but a standard of thoroughness that would allow good management decisions. And at the same time, I asked the investigative team to give me progress reports so that as the evidence amounted and certain implications became clear we could make decisions in a timely fashion and not wait for the completion of the entire investigation process. As a result, by December some of the major findings of the investigation were already clear.
Dr. Scheyer and Mr. Moriwaki had indeed improperly provided both narcotic medications and other prescription drugs to softball players, as the Department of Health has asserted. Secondly, Coach Wilson has created an environment in the softball program that allowed that improper medical and training care to continue. And she failed to recognize and heed the signs that care was inadequate.
It also became clear that the athletic department had failed to recognize the seriousness of the problems in the softball program. And when the did take action, such as when they restricted Dr. Scheyer to a non-prescribing consultant role, they failed to follow up and monitor in an adequate way. Those findings, which had emerged by December, led to a decision that month that we did not have sufficient confidence to continue Coach Wilson as the head coach of the softball program and under the terms of her contract we reassigned her and indicated to her that we would not be renewing her contract when it expired in June.
I had also asked the investigative team to flag any observations they made along the way in their work that they felt called for further evaluation by other groups. As the investigation proceeded there were two such threads that we decided to indeed follow up on. The first one, a member of the athletic department staff had recalled mentioning some years prior about possible drug abuse in the football program and that was sort of a passing comment. Under the direction of Dick Thompson's staff we launched an investigation into that and found that the staff member had indeed had such a concern. He had handled it properly by taking it first to the coach, and then with help had investigated the individual cases involved. One turned out to be an alcohol problem for a student athlete and that led to referring the athlete to counseling. And the other case turned out to be a legitimate case of body building and not a drug problem at all.
A second thread that emerged from this investigation from talking to softball players was a concern that student athletes were expending too many hours. As you may know there is a 20-hour rule by the NCAA which limits the number of hours that can be involved in the athletic program during the academic term. We set up an inventive route into looking into that quite carefully and in fact invited the Pac-10 and NCAA to join us (the NCAA declined) in an investigation as to whether there had been a 20 hour rule violation in the softball program and in fact we determined there had been.
There were a total of 36.5 hours documented excess time over three years. We self-reported that to the NCAA as a secondary violation and instituted and appropriate penalty, which was two hours lost of practice for every hour of violation. That is well underway. The softball program is operating under that penalty as we speak.
There are a lot of wonderful things that are happening in intercollegiate athletics at Washington. The student athletes are thriving. They are doing very well athletically and academically. At the same time though, we have had a number of very high profile problems. Those problems have ranged from the very small, like how much to charge for a boat ride, to the very large issues of major failures of individuals.
But of all of our problems, the one that disturbs me most is the health care of our softball players. We are very fortunate that no harm came. But the welfare of our student athletes is a fundamental responsibility-more fundamental than compliance-and we failed. We failed and this is to me deeply troubling and painful. We will do better. Thank you.