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By Art Chansky Art Chansky's commentary on WCHL, Sports Notebook, airs Monday-Friday. He is also the author of 6 books on Tar Heel basketball; the latest -- The Blue Divide -- is currently in bookstores nationwide.

Chansky: Billion-Dollar Game

By Art Chansky Posted October 16, 2013 at 9:53 am

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UNC Professors Jay Smith and Lew Margolis – now part of what they call the Athletic Reform Group – are at it again. And, once again, they show that they just don’t get the big picture.

UNC has made its choice to play major college athletics, and no one denies that it’s become a billion-dollar game these days. The money Carolina earns from TV rights, ticket sales, sponsorship deals, donations, etc., funds a 28-sport intercollegiate athletic department, some of which is dictated by Federal Title IX guidelines.

So there really is no choice. To play at that level, a school cannot put itself at a competitive disadvantage and risk its athletic department going bankrupt. Yet from the Athletic Reform Group of faculty members, we hear such blather like “UNC should unilaterally declare it is not going to admit any academic exceptions” or “UNC should unilaterally declare that it will institute freshmen ineligibility” for the sake of adjusting to college life.

Smith and Margolis co-penned a column in the Daily Tar Heel this week that talks about the rigors of playing college football and the academic pressure on all students, let alone those who are not prepared to do college work when they arrive. That is true, which is why UNC has an academic support program that is necessary and should no longer be mismanaged under the new administration.

But the two profs are guilty of sweeping generalizations about students who are unfit to do college work. Yes, they may need help coming in and throughout their four or five years, but thousands of kids who would otherwise never have the chance receive life-changing opportunities. Is that all bad?

No school in the billion-dollar game is going to “unilaterally” do anything that creates an uneven playing field. It’s hard enough to win when the field is level! Which athletes, with a chance to play professionally, will pick a school where they can’t compete as freshmen? Who would want to coach at a school like that, where they would be hired to get fired?

Smith and Margolis may want a campus where all of their classes are filled with the brightest and the best. If so, teach at Middlebury or Amherst. No, not Duke and Stanford (or the Ivy League), because those school admit exceptions and tutor the hell out of them to stay eligible. All Division I schools do.

But it’s not like the so-called big-time athletic schools are overrun with quasi-qualifiers. Carolina has more than 700 scholarship athletes and the vast majority are bright, talented and hard-working students who shine in so many different ways. A handful of football players and a few rogue coaches nearly brought the entire program down, and because of them has come the Athletic Reform Group?

Besides the dozen or so former UNC players we see on NFL games each week, there are so many more making successes of their lives than making a mockery of the system.

Mike Armstrong and Lawrence Winslow, lettermen who graduated in 1993, are an OB/GYN physician and eye doctor, respectively. Jonathan Perry, who played four years and graduated in 1992, is a vice president of his law firm in Orlando. Former All-ACC player and NFL veteran Dwight Hollier is a psychologist and Director of Transition and Clinical Services for the National Football League. Doxie Jordan, another four-year starter, is VP at a pharmaceutical company. Duenta Williams, who was here just three years ago, owns a Zaxby’s franchise with three stores.

The list goes on and includes great students, good students and some students who were special admits and needed help to graduate.

It takes all kinds and not “every minute of a football player’s 16-hour day is scripted,” as Smith and Margolis contend in the DTH. Some players need to be managed more than others, which is a bi-product of being in the billion-dollar game. If you’re in it, you’ve got to do what it takes to stay competitive.

The NCAA is under attack from all corners, and certainly it’s not a perfect system. Athletes’ rights vs. the value of their college scholarships are being widely debated. Changes are needed and changes are coming. But they won’t be at the expense of schools that have built multi-million-dollar budgets, unless those schools want to get out of the game or be sacrificial lambs to the system.

Smith and Margolis also ask everyone to be aware of what they are cheering for Thursday night when Carolina plays host to Miami. Whether to have that game in the middle of the week, during Fall Break, and how much the players are at physical risk and truly a part of the UNC educational system can be argued forever.

But what cannot be denied is how a big-time football game brings the university community – alumni, students, faculty and fans – together like no other event. When kids, adolescents and adults are more buried than ever in their various devices, HDTV is making it tougher to leave home and even on-line education is growing rapidly, the billion-dollar game is still a great answer to the de-socialization of America.

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