June 18, 2008

A Look at the Sporting Side of Prof. Don Morrison

Morrison has served as UCLA's Faculty Athletic Representative for 14 years

By Paul Feinberg and Roey Gilberg

Don MorrisonIn addition to his duties as the William E. Leonhard Professor of Management at UCLA Anderson, Don Morrison has just completed his 14th year as UCLA's Faculty Athletic Representative. Morrison, a specialist in management science and marketing, has also twice served as President of the Pacific-10 Conference.

An athlete in his own right, Morrison, served as captain of the M.I.T. track team. In 1961, he was the Eastern Conference long jump champion and placed third in the long jump at the New England Championships.

In 2002, Morrison was awarded the highest honor in the American Marketing Association, when he was named the McGraw-Hill/ Irwin Distinguished Educator of the Year. He is the author or co-author of over 90 articles, with a special emphasis on marketing research and applied statistics. He has been an expert witness as a statistician in a number of legal cases and a consultant to industrial firms and government agencies. Morrison's wife Sherie is a professor in UCLA's Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics department.

We sat down with Don to learn more about his role as UCLA’s Faculty Athletic Representative.

UCLA ANDERSON:   How did you become the faculty representative for the athletic department, and what are your responsibilities?

MORRISON:  Professor Doug Hobbs was the faculty athletic representative for 18 years, but he developed liver cancer and had to retire.  I think today there might be a more formal process ... but one day Pete (Dalis, athletic director at the time)  called me into his office and asked me if I wanted to be the faculty athletic representative.  I didn't know what it was, but after he explained I accepted.

UCLA ANDERSON:   When was that?

MORRISON:  That was March of '94.  Doug Hobbs was still around, and I had a couple of lunches with him, the two of us went to the Pac-10 summer meeting in June together, and after that I was on my own. 

The official duties of the faculty rep are that we abide by NCAA rules ... it's a big thick rule book.  We ensure all the players who compete are academically eligible to do so. 

Don Morrison and Michael HarrisOver the years, I've gotten to know all of the coaches and a lot of the athletes pretty well, and many of them are interested in MBA's, particularly the Anderson school.  While it's not part of my official responsibilities, I end up actually mentoring a lot of the students.

UCLA ANDERSON:   Are there a certain number of hours per week you devote to this?  How do you work it into your Anderson schedule?

MORRISON:  I guess I put in as much time as is needed.  I do a lot of things as a faculty rep that aren't officially required but I think help the department and the student-athletes.  I actually get a lot of satisfaction out of that. 

One official responsibility is when we nominate student athletes for awards. If I don't know them well already, I interview them and write letters of recommendation.  A fellow I'm really proud of is Parsa Bonderson who was starting goalie on a national championship water polo team. He just received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from CalTech.  I consider it a tremendous privilege and a joy to get to know and interact with these truly outstanding people.  In the Anderson school we have quite a few varsity athletes.  If you're playing big time sports, and have a rigorous major, and you're able to do well in both, it means that you can manage your time, you're competitive, you've been part of a team, you're high energy -- lots of the things that lead to success in the business world.

UCLA ANDERSON:   What are some of the challenges that UCLA coaches face?

MORRISON:  At most schools, if you're NCAA eligible, and a good athlete, you're admitted, but that's not true at UCLA.  We have what's called a Special Action Admission Committee, and we have to approve the recruitment of all student athletes.  We see everybody.  The biggest challenge is ... the average student at UCLA has virtually Ivy League level SAT scores and GPA's.  Nationally, the academic qualifications of our football and basketball players would be near the top, across all of Division I.  But at the same time, these student-athletes face a bigger gap with respect to the regular students than just about any others.  Also, we don't have a physical education major, or any such undergraduate majors that hide athletes.

UCLA ANDERSON:   Would it be accurate to say that somewhere in the academic side of the university, someone has taken a philosophical stance that athletes who are at the NCAA minimum are unlikely to be able to compete, and therefore the standards need to be higher than what the NCAA says are the minimum standards for eligibility?

MORRISON:   I don't know if it's been a conscious decision, or just the way things evolved.  We don't have any really easy majors, and the overall student body has gotten better.  Our coaches may be frustrated by this, but it's unethical to admit students who you know are going to flunk out.

UCLA ANDERSON:   Are there gray areas?

MORRISON:  Sure, there are obviously gray areas.  My job is relatively easy in that regard, because the chancellors and athletic directors I've worked with have all been on the same page.  Overall, we have a fabulous set of coaches, and over half of our head coaches were elite UCLA athletes.  They don't just think about their sport -- they think about the institution.  We want to do it the right way.  There's a culture of compliance within the UCLA athletic department that doesn't exist everywhere.  Another huge difference is that the Pac-10 is the only conference that has it's own internal compliance ... if you commit a major violation within the conference, you'll end up with an in-person hearing with the Compliance and Enforcement Committee.

UCLA ANDERSON:   Are you a lifelong sports fan?

Don Morrison competing in the long jump at M.I.T.MORRISON:  Oh yeah.  I started kindergarten in Detroit in the fall of 1944, and unlike kindergarten today, I don't think we did any homework -- I think we just played.  By the first grade, I knew a fair amount about baseball from my dad, and I literally learned to read and do arithmetic from the sports pages of the Detroit Free Press.  In essence I've read the whole sports section every day of my life since I was in the first grade.  I was an athlete myself -- I played mostly basketball and track in high school, and in college, I ran indoor and outdoor track.  (Note: when Morrison graduated from M.I.T. he held the school's second best all time long jump mark, and today it holds up as the fifth best).

UCLA ANDERSON:   What are your favorite moments you've been able to witness because you have this position?

MORRISON:  I was on the sideline not far from Eric McNeil's interception that sealed the victory over USC (in 2006).  And of course (UCLA's victory over Gonzaga in the 2006 basketball tournament) was really exciting.  I would also say watching on TV a couple of the national championships that Al Scates won in (men's) volleyball, because I know and respect Al so well.  I don't think there are very many places where it would be better to be the faculty athletics representative.  We do it the right way, we have great kids, we win more national championships than anyone else, we have this fabulous set of coaches ...

UCLA ANDERSON:   Do you know Coach Wooden?

MORRISON:  Yes, I do.  Even today, at 97, while he's physically somewhat frail, he hasn't lost anything mentally.  You can carry on a great conversation with him, and he's still a marvelous speaker.  He really is a national treasure.

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