& A with Steve Bilsky
17, the Council of Ivy Group Presidents passed several measures aimed
at toughening academic standards for athletes that already are considered
the highest among schools that play Division I sports. These included
raising the minimum academic requirements for admission; reducing
the number of recruited athletes as a percentage of each incoming
class, and requiring that all student-athletes perform academically
on a par with the general student body. Penn Athletic Director Steve
Bilsky W71 spoke to Gazette sports
columnist David Porter C82 about the changes and what they portend
for Penn and the rest of the Ivies.
would you classify the measures?
overall reform package I would classify as moderate. And I think there
were some presidents who would have liked to have seen something much
more aggressive. I think the fact that they came to a much more moderate
conclusion is why I feel somewhat satisfied by this. Because obviously
Penn was of the position that it made sense to make some changes,
update the standards because they hadnt been looked at in a while,
but to try and do it in a way that would not negatively impact the
athletic programs. So I think in that regard we were satisfied.
you agree with the statement by another Ivy League athletic administrator
that the league is apologizing for something that it doesnt need
to apologize forspecifically, the academic performance of its student-athletes?
think thats the general sense of the athletic directors, and the
coaches and the student-athletes. We think we have the best model
in the country. Its legitimately a model thats based on a balance
between academic interests and athletic interests. No Division I conference
does it as well as the Ivy League does, when you look at the criteria
for admission that athletes meet, and when you look at their performance
in the classroom. The average GPA for student-athletes at Penn is
over 3.0. So when people say it needs change, the normal reaction
is, well, lets not be defensive about this but lets be positive
about what we have.
these changes make it more difficult to attract good coaches and athletic
directors to the league?
can really only speak for Penn, and the changes for us are not dramatic.
One, the overall package is very moderate. Two, in a lot of the areas
we upgraded our standards over the last couple of years of our own
accord. So the effect on the academic end on Penn is very minimal.
But where we contributed to the good of the whole was in limiting
the number of [athletic] matriculations and having a fixed number.
The percentage of student-athletes at Penn will be one of the lowest
in the league. Every school contributed something to the whole; thats
what we contributed. That would be one area that I, selfishly, would
have liked to have seen not change. But again, you dont create a
consensus proposal unless everybody gives something.
you see the reform-minded spirit of the Ivy presidents continuing?
face an interesting future, because with President Rodin leaving [see
story on page 24], with Cornell having a new president, with the Princeton
president basically being a year into her job, its a new group of
characters. I can only speak for President Rodinand I worked very
closely with her on these issuesthat she was a strong advocate for
maintaining the balance between the needed academic reform and the
rights that schools have and students have, to be able to be successful
outside the league. She was a real champion of that.
conferences contracting and expanding seemingly every year, could
you see Penn someday leaving the Ivies and joining a Big East or an
think we still have pretty much the same fundamental policies and
beliefs, so I dont see anything like that happening. But over the
next 10 years, there could be a rift, if changes continue to happen
and schools feel strongly that the philosophies of some of the members
are more Division III [which emphasizes the impact of athletics on
participants rather than spectators] and there are remaining schools
that like the status quo, the Division I status.
My biggest fear is at some point we look back and say, How did we
get to this stage? We didnt make an announcement that we want to
be Division III, but well get to the point over a long period of
time that we de-emphasize athletics and were no longer able to compete.
I dont think thats in Penns interest, and I think there are some
other schools in the league that would agree with that.
Porter C82 writes for the Associated Press.