The Commentators – Lew Margolis – October 2, 2014

Stronger consent forms for high school football players.

The NCAA Harms

From Lew Margolis.

Two torches stand guard next to the shield of UNC, emblazoned with lux et libertas, light and liberty. It is as if the two torches are shining as bright a light as possible on the term lux, a metaphor for the search for truth that is at the heart of a great university. As we sadly know, UNC seems to need more than two torches in the search for truth about the scandals arising from the Department of Athletics.

The latest revelation is that efforts seem to have been made, or at least there was serious concern that efforts would be made, to alter a report in preparation last summer by a sub-committee of the Faculty Executive Committee to investigate fake courses and other irregularities linked to the eligibility of athletes. Although probably not at all the intent of those who sought to change the draft report, the apparent reasoning behind these efforts is a straightforward indictment of the NCAA’s harm to the mission of UNC. The quote from one of the emails is “The worry is that this could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention.” Let’s explore the reasoning. On the one hand, let’s assume that the NCAA is a clumsy, Byzantine, bureaucratic nightmare, with hopelessly complex rules and regulations that probably make agents from the Internal Revenue Service blush. Recognizing this, UNC, or any rational actor, would make great efforts to avoid “raising NCAA issues” to use the phrase from the email. On the other hand, let’s assume that the NCAA is the consummate Lady Justice, securely blindfolded and holding the most perfectly balanced scales. If contacts by the athletics department were indeed responsible for the dubious enrollments, that is, if UNC had violated rules, then, unfortunately, there could well be motivations to avoid “raising NCAA issues.” Either the NCAA is so bad that it’s worth any effort to avoid its attention or the NCAA is so good that it’s worth any effort to avoid its attention.

When asked why his football teams rarely passed, Woody Hayes, the legendary and disgraced coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, used to say that three things can happen with a forward pass, and two of them are bad. It seems that when it comes to the NCAA two things can happen and both undermine the mission of universities. So, what’s the purpose of the NCAA? Why does UNC belong?

–Lew Margolis


Can somebody explain to me “recruiting” in Division 1 intercollegiate sports?  Recently, high school athletes announced the schools that they plan to attend and the teams they will join next year.  Concerns have been raised about the quality of the football skills of the class of players who have declared their intention to enroll at UNC.  After all, we had heard that the new head coach is a “great recruiter.”  While he himself was being “recruited,” he was asked about his experience as a “recruiter.”  Some have suggested the cumbersome NCAA investigation and the possibility of sanctions against the UNC football program have created disincentives to attend UNC, in spite of active “recruitment.”

UNC has become a great university because it attracts applicants to the quality of the “research, scholarship and creativity” at the heart of its mission, not because faculty and staff are wandering the country to meet with individual students.  My colleagues in public health or computer science or philosophy don’t spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours traveling around the country to meet with the best and the brightest applicants, to “recruit” them to come to UNC.  Even prestigious programs like the Morehead-Cain and Robertson scholars programs, with their considerable resources, do not engage in this type of expensive and labor-intensive recruiting.  Guidance counselors and teachers, parents and community leaders, know that UNC provides exceptional educational opportunities and they advise students accordingly.

Surely, 80 qualified football players or 20 qualified basketball players would enroll in our fine university each year without the expensive and harmful distortions in priorities that result from “recruiting” 18 year olds.  After all, we manage to enroll outstanding linguists, mathematicians, chemistry students, and voice majors to name just a few, in each new cohort of Tar Heels.