ASU's pioneering sport- psychology program was put to the acid test in the days after Bobby Janisse's self-inflicted death. It passed with flying colors. Several ASU wrestlers and head coach Bobby Douglas credit sport psychologist Mark Andersen with counseling them on how to cope with the mind-numbing tragedy.
"It was very important for the team to have someone we knew we could count on," Douglas says. "A lot of us were lost and confused, and not as tough as we thought we were. We needed someone to talk to--a professional--and we had someone right there for us."
But Andersen isn't around ASU anymore. Citing budgetary constraints, the school's athletic administration axed Andersen and the sport-psychology unit June 30.
"If you want to know why I've been eliminated, ask Charles Harris," says Andersen, who was hired to start the groundbreaking program two years ago. "It was his call."
ASU athletic director Charles Harris is keenly aware of the pressures athletes in major universities often face. Bobby Janisse was the seventh student-athlete to commit suicide in Harris' fifteen years in athletic administration. (He's in his seventh year at ASU.)
But Harris says he and other department heads have been forced to make cutbacks because of the pared-down state budget. "We concluded there is another array of options within the university to cover what Mark has been doing," he says. "Mark did a fine job, but now we'll have a sports medicine advisory team to help, we've got Student Health, we've got the psychology department--several people who will be on call to help our kids if necessary."
Andersen worked at the ASU Activities Center, where athletes could speak with him about whatever was troubling them. His office was a few feet from the wrestling team's practice area, and he met many of the athletes--not Bobby Janisse, however--just by being around.
"That was the point of it," Charles Harris concedes. "We tried to create an environment where there's not some new interloper who rides into town."
The sport-psychology program had a $50,000 annual budget, which included Andersen's $32,000 salary, $8,000 for a graduate assistant and $10,000 for operating expenses. (Andersen says he spent about half the money budgeted for operating expenses during his two-year stint.)
There's irony in the way Andersen learned of his elimination. The bearer of the bad tidings was assistant athletic director for administration Mike Alden. He had just co-authored with Andersen an article in the June issue of Athletics Administration--it was about the benefits of collegiate sport-psychology services.
The original draft proudly used ASU as a model for the nation's colleges. (Only Penn State and the Air Force Academy currently have full-time sport psychologists, Andersen says, though numerous other universities have expressed interest.)
"I called up the magazine and told them that I had kind of an embarrassing situation," Andersen says. "In other words, that ASU wasn't going to have a program anymore."
The published version of the piece makes no reference to ASU, but speaks only of the discipline's "bright future at several schools across the country."
Alden says the timing of the program's demise so soon after Bobby Janisse's death was "unfortunate."
"I was the administrator who sent the stuff back to Bobby's family and I went through some stuff in my mind myself about the tragedy," he says. "I needed someone to talk to about why he had killed himself."
Mark Andersen wonders how ASU's new counseling system will work out. "I just hope a kid doesn't clam up because he or she doesn't feel comfortable with a stranger," he says. "It's funny. We had the model for the whole nation right here at ASU and people were looking at us. All of a sudden, it's over."
"It was very important for the team to have someone we knew we could count on.