K-State Sports Extra: Sit Down with Holen

MANHATTAN, Kan. - To say Dr. Mike Holen has seen it all in the 13-year history of the Big 12 Conference isn't quite true, but it's close to being fact.

Holen, the Dean of the College of Education at K-State for nearly two decades, has resigned his post as KSU's Faculty Athletics Representative to the conference, which is a position he has held for the last 11 years.

During Holen's tenure, K-State served as a Big 12 and national leader in athletics and academic achievement, including a current string of three straight years with the No.1 graduation rate in the Big 12 for all student-athletes. In addition, Holen helped guide K-State through a major transition in NCAA eligibility and graduation legislation with the implementation of the Academic Progress Rate and Graduation Success Rate.

Holen recently visited with "K-State Sports Extra's" Mark Janssen on the past, and the future of Wildcat athletics.

                Mark Janssen: Eleven years ago, what intrigued you to accept the position of Faculty Representative into an already busy schedule as Dean of the College of Education?

                Mike Holen: Well, fundamentally, I have an interest in service to the University and I have always considered athletics as an important part of the education experience, not just for student-athletes, but for all students.  And, I believe that it's important that it is run properly and run with integrity, so this was an opportunity to help do that. I just looked around in some areas where I could be a service to the institution and felt that I had some skills that were consistent to the needs of this role.

                MJ: Eleven years later, has the role changed?

                MH: (Smiling) Well, first, Max (Urick, former KSU AD) lied to me when he persuaded me to do it. He said all I had to do is go to a few meetings a year, and sign off on a few papers, and that would be all there was to it. We continue to be good friends despite what he did to me.

                Seriously, when I first started, the position was quite different than it is today. In the first few years, the presidents didn't have the control over the NCAA process that they have come to have, and the Faculty Reps were very important, and in some cases even the decision makers with some of the NCAA legislation. Because of that, it was important that the institution be represented by somebody who had a sympathy for the athlete's experience as a part of the overall university experience, but at the same time wasn't so close to it that they were a booster, not in the technical sense, but in the everyday sense, and who could persuade people by argument, logic and relationships.

                The position has become, in some respect, more important in recent years because of the number of academic issues, eligibility standards, and quite frankly, a difference in how coaches and student-athletes interact.

                MJ: Is that an area where you, while also carrying the Dean's title, feel best about ... the academic progress in intercollegiate athletics?

                MH: The thing I feel best about is the change in attitude of the coaches in the area of academic performance with the student-athletes. There was a time when coaches recruited almost exclusively on talent and didn't pay that much attention to the academic side. I would say in the last decade that has changed dramatically in terms of the student-athlete benefitting from the educational experience. I hope I have helped reinforce that for the coaches and athletic directors, and our student-athletes have certainly performed very well.

                You know, student-athletes graduate at a higher rate than our general student body does. Now, they have the assistance through academic advisors and tutors, but the reality is they are putting in untold hours in behalf of their athletic endeavors and contribute to the environment of the university in a number of ways. Because of that, it doesn't bother me that they're getting academic assistance because I think they should be. I think we have some great folks within our academic assistance center, and they operate with integrity and work hard on behalf of the student-athlete so they can be successful.

                MJ: With Michael Beasley two years ago, K-State faced its first one-and-done situation. Do you have a feeling on that?

                MH: I do, and I know my feelings are not agreed on with some of my colleagues in this business. Of course I want every student to graduate, if at all possible. But I don't see graduation as the only value of going to college. If it's just for one year, or for two years, I would much rather have an individual like Michael Beasley at a great place like K-State than playing ball in Europe, or South America, or playing ball in the street somewhere.

                I think tremendous value can be gained through getting some academic assistance, and being a part of university life has tremendous value even though they have no intention of graduating. If we're truly interested in young people's welfare, any little bit of quality experience that we can give them is a good thing. Using Michael Beasley as the example, I would rather have him here for a year to experience our faculty and community members than have him be any other place in the world.

                MJ: You came in 11 years ago when the Big 12 Conference was fairly young ... is it working?

                MH:  I think it works. I've been involved in a lot of issues that aren't just K-State issues. I think it works quite well, but I think there are questions to be addressed about revenue distribution, which is always tinged by whether it benefits you, or not. With some institutions, the formula benefits, and with others it does not.

                In the future, that's an issue that the presidents will have to thrash out. I guess the best prediction is that anything that has been tough to change over a dozen years will continue to be tough to change.

                MJ: Mike, are you pleased with the current direction of K-State athletics?

                MH: I am. We have become a little more aware of the importance of Olympic sports.  We have ceased arguing about Title IX issues and can now see the potential benefits to our female students by providing them equity. Our coaches are more interested than ever in academic performance of their kids, and more interested than ever in behavior. They understand how their student-athletes can make the institution look back if they don't behave in a reasonable way.

                MJ: As a Dean, have you ever been concerned that too much emphasis is placed on athletics?

                MH: I have never personally felt that, and I don't detect that among the broad faculty and administrative base. I think there's a fundamental belief that athletics opens a very positive window to the university, and when we do things well and properly, it's a huge benefit to the institution. I know our fans believe that, and our alumni believe that, and I also think a significant majority of our faculty feel that.

                MJ:  Are you pleased with the direction of the President Kirk Schulz and AD John Currie team when it comes to athletics?

                MH: We've had a big change with our administrative model in moving from athletic council, which was more of just an advisory board, to the board of directors, which is designed to have more of an ability to manage elements of budgets, as an example. It's very early, but both the President and AD are very smart people who are supportive of athletics in a healthy way. I don't think they see it as something that ought to drive decision making in an institution, but see it as a really important addition to the experience for all students.

                They have very good fundamental instincts, and in the brief time that I have seen them work, they have good gut instincts. They have honorable intentions, and they want to be sure athletics represents the institution in a way that makes everyone proud. I think these two people are smart, articulate, have good experience and very good instincts.