Recruiting Column: Interview with Eastern Michigan University President Dr. James Smith

Recruiting Column: Interview with Eastern Michigan University President Dr. James Smith

Recruiting Column

Recruiting Column: Interview with Eastern Michigan University President Dr. James Smith

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the recruiting process. This isn’t about where just the top five-star athletes are headed but rather a guide to the process and the pitfalls for student-athletes nationwide from This week’s article is written by Ross Hawley, the president of the company. is an industry leader in college recruiting. Their technology based recruiting service identifies the right colleges for potential recruits to pursue and provides a recruiting system that is second to none for student-athletes of all talent levels and ages.

(Photo: Eastern Michigan University)

In an effort to bring you a bit of a different perspective into the world of college athletics, I recently sat down to interview Dr. James M. Smith. These days, it seems like high school athletes are becoming more and more focused on commitments and signing parties, only to lose sight of the true value of playing at the next level. That’s just not how it should be. So, instead of focusing on what it takes to become a recruit this week, I thought it would be time well-spent to discuss with Dr. Smith what it actually means to be a student-athlete at the collegiate level.

From his time as president at Northern State University (NCAA Division II) to his current position as president at Eastern Michigan University (NCAA Division I), there aren’t many more people that genuinely understand the impact athletics have within the dynamic of a university. Here is what Dr. Smith had to say.

Q: How does an athletic department impact a university?

A: Every college student, whether they’re an athlete or not, is on campus for an education. Scholar always comes before athlete because graduating and earning a degree is the most important part of any student’s collegiate experience. But, when you step back and look at it with a broad lens view, an athletic department is essentially the front porch of the university. In other words, it’s how people identify with you. An athletic department often serves as a first impression to people outside of the university’s community and it’s important for an administration to be aware of that. It goes without saying that you want to make that first impression a positive one.

Beyond that, college athletics really round out the total experience for students, faculty and the community. They provide you with an outlet to experience things you’ve maybe never experienced before. Whether that’s going to your first wrestling match or attending the swim meet of a friend and classmate, an athletic department plays a big role in the overall social engagement of a university.

Q: What do you want an Eastern Michigan student-athlete to gain from their collegiate experience?

A: There a few things that I think a student-athlete should take away from their collegiate experience here at Eastern Michigan. The first is a degree, because that’s what propels their next step. The main priority we have as an administration is to ensure we are equipping all of our young men and women for the next phase of their lives. That means doing everything in our power to see each one of our student-athletes walk across that stage and graduate.

The next thing I would like for each of our student-athletes is for them to finish their careers injury-free. Yes, collegiate athletes are given some great opportunities and experiences over the course of their four years on campus. But, they’re also giving a tremendous amount of themselves to their university, especially from a physical perspective. It’s our responsibility to take care of our athletes and provide them a safe environment to not only compete, but also to flourish.

Lastly, every student-athlete should be able to walk away from their career with an overall amazing experience. We want them to win. A lot! We want them to feel like they were developed into the best version of themselves, both on and off the field. And, we want them to walk away with friends and experiences that will last them a lifetime.

(Photo: Eastern Michigan University)

Q: What is your message to parents of student-athletes being recruited by Eastern Michigan or just being recruited, in general?

A: It’s an incredible honor for your son or daughter to be given an opportunity to play at the collegiate level. I think knowing that should help you to keep things in the proper context. When it comes down to helping your child decide on a school, ask yourself if this is the decision that will truly make them happy. The goal of any parent should be to see their child in a situation where they’ll have the best possible experience. Focus on finding the right fit. There are so many great programs and institutions out there, spanning many different levels. The division I level is certainly not the only option where your child can achieve happiness.

I think it’s also important to ask the right questions of the administration and coaching staff at the schools recruiting your son or daughter. Listen to what they’re really saying. Will your child receive the necessary support to manage their academic requirements and graduate on time? What is the message of the coaching staff? Does that message align with your expectations? Keep things in perspective by being informed.

Q: What are your expectations of an Eastern Michigan student-athlete?

A: Aside from being a scholar, taking care of business in the classroom and earning that degree, we expect a lot of our athletes, which I think is a very positive thing. Many of the athletes we have on campus are also some of the best leaders on campus. They’re active in the student government, they’re active in regular campus-life and they add to the leadership profile that makes up Eastern Michigan. It would be accurate to say that we expect our young men and women to be great campus citizens. We want them to engage with the faculty and find opportunities to participate in other areas where they can make a positive impact.

My hope is that our student athletes, both past and present, will be thankful for the opportunities they’ve had at Eastern Michigan and give back to help the next generation of student-athletes coming through Ypsilanti.


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