ESPN's documentary on the Fab Five began and ended with footage of Michigan’s Final Four banners from 1992 and 1993. The banners were taken down from the rafters of Crisler Arena when the school sanctioned itself after learning Chris Webber and others took money from booster Ed Martin. In the days since the documentary aired, Ann Arbor has buzzed with debate over whether the banners should have been removed. One important figure believes they should still hang prominently and publicly today.
His name is James Duderstadt. He was the president of the University of Michigan when the Fab Five were in school.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Duderstadt said he not only watched the documentary, but enjoyed the retelling of what many in Ann Arbor consider to be a dark part of Michigan’s past.
“The players themselves, I don’t think caused us any harm at all,” Duderstadt said of the Fab Five. “I don’t think it was a good idea to pull down the NCAA banners or try to hide the seasons. I view them as a positive part of the University’s history.”
Duderstadt said he was in no way supporting athletes taking money, but he added, “There’s a lot of confusion about what really happened.”
Duderstadt was specifically referring to the segment of the documentary in which Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said he spent abundant time with Webber and never saw evidence of him having a great deal of spending money.
“I realize what happened with Chris Webber and other players accepting money -- that shouldn’t have happened,” Duderstadt said. “But what you saw was a very compelling case on the players’ behalf.”
The documentary pointed out that Michigan merchandise sales skyrocketed during and after the Fab Five arrived on campus, and yet the players themselves never saw any financial benefit.
“In the revenue sports,” Duderstadt said, “which are generating $100 million a year or more, some level of compensation [for student-athletes] beyond their minimal costs is probably appropriate.”
Asked if he would return the banners to the rafters if he was president of the University today, Duderstadt said, “I would certainly try to find a way.”
Current president Mary Sue Coleman, who was in office during the time of the self-imposed sanctions and the NCAA punishment that ensued, did not return a call placed to her office Tuesday afternoon.
Duderstadt was president of the University from 1988 until 1996, which included Michigan’s national championship in basketball in 1989 and its Final Four runs in 1992 and 1993. It wasn’t until 2002 that the University decided to erase the Fab Five from its record books, which included vacating all the victories in the two seasons in which they played at Michigan.