The Rawlings Panel and the Right Questions
From Lew Margolis.
Just a few weeks ago, the Rawlings panel held its first meeting to consider how challenges caused by athletics at UNC can inform the direction of our campus and the national higher education community. I would like to remind the panel that the first step in any useful analysis is to provide a clear definition of the problem. Unfortunately, the agenda of the well-attended meeting, did not clearly frame the questions. Chancellor Thorp introduced the session by stating as fact that “big time college athletics are here to stay” or implying that “$100 million in sales of licensed merchandise” somehow makes the athletics enterprise OK.
Why should we start a conversation if we have these answers? Bubba Cunningham then traced in great detail the treacherous path of big time college sports with a certainty and inevitability that again makes us wonder, why start a discussion? Chancellor Thorp then returned to the podium to bemoan the powerlessness of chancellors to adhere to educational missions in the face of alumni and boosters who demand what amount to professional sports programs in football and basketball. It was only after creating a frame of inescapability and impotence that speakers like Jay Bilas, Richard Southall, and Jay Smith asked the important questions.
Why do we accept the hypocrisy of amateurism when the only ones not being paid are the very people, the football and basketball players, who are producing most of the economic value? The athletics scholarship system does pay for the opportunity for some students from families with limited means to attend universities. But how do we live with the basic unfairness of the so-called “collegiate model” whereby millions upon millions of dollars that the revenue athletes in football and basketball generate are redistributed to coaches, luxury facilities, and other students who have no such financial need? Shouldn’t we at least use clear language for this discussion, that is, discard the term “student-athlete,” a label created by the NCAA to confuse efforts to reign in the hypocrisy that has come to characterize big time sports on campus?
In her modern classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood taught us that, “It isn’t the sort of thing you ask questions about, because the answers are not usually answers you want to know.” I encourage the panel to ask the right questions.
- Lew Margolis