Conversation with Phil DiStefano

<b>Phil DiStefano</b> has been at CU in various capacities — as a professor, dean of the School of Education and top administrator — since 1974. Under President Hoffman's reorganization effort, DiStefano will have greater oversight of the athletic department, beginning in July. BSN sat down with DiStefano recently to get his thoughts on a range of topics concerning Colorado athletics.

DiStefano first came to CU as an assistant professor in education. He was the dean of that school from 1986-1996, and has worked in campus administration for the past seven years as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, also known as Provost.

Under the new arrangement, the CU athletic director will report to the Provost, rather than the campus chancellor.

Buffalo Sports News: What are your duties as Provost?

Phil DiStefano: The Provost is the chief academic officer on the campus. So all of the deans of the schools and colleges report to me, as well as the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Vice Chancellor for Research. So it's about 90 percent of the campus that reports to my office.

BSN: You have a reputation as a supporter of CU athletics. What are some of your favorite Buffaloes memories?

PD: Very early on when I came to the university, after my second or third year, I was a member of the intercollegiate athletic committee on campus -- the faculty committee. That's at the time when Eddie Crowder was the athletic director and Bill Mallory was the football coach. And so very early on I always had season tickets to football games and men's and women's basketball games.

I actually watched Brian Cabral play. He's one of my favorite people. I watched him as a student athlete here and certainly watched him in the pros. And then when he came back to coach, I was pleased with that because he's such an outstanding individual.

My favorites have always been the linebackers at CU.

I remember sitting in the stadium when there were no people there, and watching Oklahoma rout us. And then to see the Bill McCartney era and how he put Colorado back on the map in football, and then the Neuheisel years, and now with Gary. So I've seen all the ups and downs over the years.

BSN: How important are successful athletic programs to a state university like CU?

PD: Major universities around the country have athletics. You take top institutions that we compare ourselves to and they all have intercollegiate athletics. I think it's important for the University of Colorado to have intercollegiate athletics and to support intercollegiate athletics.

Athletics provides the opportunity for student athletes to get an education. And I think overall, even though we always hear that the faculty on campus don't support athletics, I don't think that's the case. I think that most of the faculty on campus do support intercollegiate athletics. Especially when they look at the benefits to student athletes in the Olympic sports and sports like women's volleyball and women's soccer. And that success comes because of football. Football pays for those intercollegiate sports.

One of my roles will be to help faculty understand that intercollegiate athletics, especially in the minor sports, are supported by football revenue.

BSN: You've also served as faculty representative to the Big 12. It seems like you've got a unique perspective. You probably have a clear understanding of what goes on academically in the athletic department. And yet you're among the faculty and administration. Do you think there's a misconception at CU about student athletes at CU really living up to the student part of things?

PD: I think there is. When you look at student athletes coming in, CU is very different from other institutions. For example, we don't have a degree in physical education. Many institutions do. So you find these institutions where all these student athletes come in and they all migrate to one particular major. We don't have that at CU. Our student athletes are in very diverse majors across the campus; in engineering, in business, in arts and sciences.

The other thing is that CU doesn't accept D's on junior college transcripts. Other institutions do. As a matter of fact, we're the only institution in the Big 12 that doesn't accept courses (that don't count toward a CU major). So junior college students that we look at must have C's or better and must be taking courses that are applicable to one of the degrees here on campus.

So, I think for the most part, the student athletes who are coming in are prepared. And those who stay with us are successful.

BSN: Can you explain the idea of the admissions window we keep hearing about?

PD: Sure. The Colorado Commission on Higher Education gives us an index score. And our index score is 103. And that's a combination of grade point average, SAT or ACT scores and class rank. If you fall into this category of 103 or above, you're admissible to the University of Colorado.

We're allowed at this point to admit 20 percent of our students who fall below that 103. These are students who might be home schooled, so they don't have grades. They might be international students that don't take the ACT or SAT, or don't have grades that (translate) to what we do here in the United States.

And we have students who maybe bring a special talent to the university. It may be in music, it may be in theater or dance, or they may be a student athlete. And they may not have the 103 index. What we do is we look at other things. We look at courses they've taken. Have they taken rigorous courses in their high schools? Maybe they didn't do as well, but they're grounded in core courses.

Or are they from good high schools – high schools that are very difficult where they don't inflate grades. Or do they show some sort of potential, where in the first two years they didn't do well, but in the last two years they really picked up on it. Those are the students that we admit in the window. And we look at potential for success. The admission process makes a judgment.

So with the student athlete, we look very closely at their record to determine whether or not, given the academic support services, whether or not they're going to be successful.

The main issue that has come up in the last four or five months is that over the past three or four years about 50 to 60 percent of the student athletes were admitted through the window. Some of them are international students. For example, Ceal Barry recruited two international students (last year). They're very bright kids, but they had to come through the window.

What we'd like to do, one of the recommendations is to get the percentage of athletes coming through the window more closely aligned with the rest of the student body. We're not going to do that overnight, that's going to take a while. On the part of the coaches that means that their pool of recruits will have to be larger than it is now.

I think what we'll do is monitor it really carefully. We've sent all the data over to the athletic department. We're going to have a session with all of the coaches in the early fall and talk about the window.

We want to make sure that there's potential for success. Because recruiting students isn't enough – it's retaining them and graduating them.

BSN: Are these changes going to affect the student athletes who signed letters of intent to come here this fall?

PD: No, they won't affect them. But there are NCAA changes coming down the road in August that will affect all new student athletes coming in. That's mainly in continuing eligibility.

At the end of their first year they need to meet 20 percent of their coursework in their major toward graduation. At the end of the second year it's 40 percent, at the end of the third year it's 60 percent … You would hope that at the end of their fifth year that they would graduate.

That's a huge change because right now it's based upon successfully completing courses, not just courses toward a degree.

What we have to do is make sure that their first two years, if they are undeclared majors, that they are working on their core (requirements) courses. That's progress toward a degree.

BSN: Do you think CU can continue to field a competitive football team with the changing admissions?

PD: Absolutely, I do. I think Gary Barnett is committed to bringing in qualified student athletes who will be competitive in both the classroom and on the field. Look what he did at Northwestern. Northwestern has very high standards and he was able to bring together teams that competed very well and went to the Rose Bowl.

Again, as the NCAA rules change, we're going to see coaches not limiting themselves to a few areas for recruiting. They're going to have to open themselves up to larger areas so that the pool is larger. So that they can pick talent that is competitive in the classroom and on the field.

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