UNC Top Leaders Tackle Athletic/Academic Relations

CHAPEL HILL – In the wake of academic and athletic scandals, UNC is now in a unique position to turn negatives into positives and re-write the role of athletics in university life. Provost Jim Dean, UNC’s chief academic officer, in his first months in the position, said the process of examining academic support to student athletes has already begun.

Dean took over as UNC’s provost on July 1, replacing Bruce Carney, who returned to the faculty after four years in the position. Carney, and former Chancellor Holden Thorp, led the university through tumultuous times in the midst of an NCAA investigation of the University’s football program, that subsequently revealed “irregularities” in the African and Afro-American Studies Department.

“It is clear that there are some areas where we haven’t done as well as we should have, and so what we want to make sure is that we really have a very thorough, rigorous framework that we can use for everything that we are doing with student athletes,” Dean said.

UNC Provost-elect Jim Dean

UNC Provost Jim Dean

As former dean of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Dean watched as Carolina’s senior leadership dealt with the blows of the scandals. He said the controversies have been reported “thoroughly,” and as a result there may have been a misconception about how wide-reaching the academic scandals were.

“If you added up all of the things that people have talked about over the past few years, in terms of the number of people that it has touched, it is actually a really small number of people,” Dean said. “Again, I will emphasize that there’s 800 or so student athletes, and we are talking about a relative handful. If we are talking about courses, it is the same thing. If you are talking about faculty, we are talking about really, really small numbers in a university that has 30,000 students and 3,000 professors.”

Dean said in a few short months, he has forged a strong relationship with Carolina’s new batch of leaders, including Chancellor Carol Folt and Bubba Cunningham, now two years into his role as Director of Athletics. Together, the three have already begun work as the Student Athlete Academic Working Group.

“I think it is natural that when you have that many new people, we will come in and look around and say we have inherited a wonderful university, certainly one of the top universities in the country, but there’s always more that you can do and ways to make things better,” he said. “I do think that some of the problems we’ve had have inspired us to dig a little deeper and try a little harder to make sure that we are doing everything we can to live up to the standards of the university.”

Other members include Michelle Brown, who joined the University last spring as Director of the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes, and Stephen Farmer, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions. Dean said the group will also examine student athlete recruitment, admission and advising processes.

“It is important for me to say as Provost, I have a responsibility for the academic lives of all students, including all student athletes,” Dean said. “I am working closely with Bubba Cunningham as the Athletic Director, who has responsibility for the student athletes as athletes, and we have a great partnership that we are using to work together.”

Dean said the working group aims to build on recent progress made across campus in strengthening relationships between academics and athletics. Examples include the ongoing work of the Faculty Council’s Faculty Athletics Committee; the reorganization of and new leadership for the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes, which now reports to Dean’s office; and the implementation of the new strategic plan in the athletics department, according to UNC’s website.

In a large scale operation such as UNC, Dean said it is impossible to control every aspect, but examining current processes is a starting place for improvement.

“Whenever you are dealing with people, you can’t really make any guarantees in any sphere of life. But really all well-run organizations have a way that they do things.”

In April, work also began on a college athletics round table discussion commissioned by Holden Thorp and led by Hunter Rawlings, President of the Association of American Universities. UNC asked the panel to make recommendations about the role of athletics in the life of a university, taking into account the recent challenges the university has faced.  In ongoing discussions, the panel is covering the NCAA, presidential control, amateurism, the current context of the model for college athletics, and the role of faculty.


Pay For Play In College Sports Gaining Momentum

CHAPEL HILL – The idea of paying collegiate athletes—it’s an idea that used to seem outrageous but may be a reality in the near future.

ESPN Broadcaster and Duke basketball alum Jay Bilas spoke at UNC last week during a college athletics roundtable discussion commissioned by Chancellor Holden Thorp. Bilas says that the concept of amateurism in college sports doesn’t work anymore and things need to change.

“College sports is professional. The only thing amateur about it is the structure and the leadership, and that the players don’t get anything,” Bilas said. “We’re not running this like the business it is. This is a multi-billion dollar business and we’re not running it the right way.”

Bilas speaks to panel

The NCAA reports its projected revenue for 2012-13 is to be just under $800 million dollars, with $702 million coming from the Association’s new rights agreement with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting.

“I have considered it for a long time to be immoral to restrict athletes from getting more than just a scholarship when we don’t have a reason for doing so,” Bilas said. “It’s a conceptual problem and I think it’s a moral problem.”

Bilas says paying college players would be expenses incidental to a multi-billion dollar industry.

“Money is not the issue with regard to athletes, because we’ve got professional athletes that are playing and we don’t see major problems,” Bilas said. “The problem is the restriction we have keeping athletes from receiving money.”

He says a pay-for-play model needs to be instituted because Division I men’s basketball and football are professional enterprises.

He also argues that it’s not right that college athletes can’t cash-in on endorsements, saying they have a right to support themselves and their families.

Bilas cited the example of 4-time Olympic gold medalist Missy Franklin.

She accepted an athletics scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley. To keep her NCAA eligibility, she can’t receive any endorsements. Bilas says it’s not right that she has to lose out on millions of dollars in potential income.

Additionally, the court’s attention is focused on former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s law suit against the NCAA for using his likenesses for profit with out compensation.

The fall-out of the lawsuit could be tremendous, though it wouldn’t be immediate. We could see retro-active payments of former and current student athletes and the larger implication of throwing out the old college athletics business model all together. Game-makers, like EA Sports, could get out of the college business completely if they have to start paying royalties to athletes.

“Think about it this way: the athlete is the only person in the university community that is restricted from compensation beyond expenses—the only person,” Bilas said.

The harsh restrictions placed on college athletes, Bilas explained, have caused too many dealings with unauthorized agents too go “under the table.” He says the NCAA should lift the restrictions and bring transparency back to the process.

“It has created an underground economy. It has created scandals that really don’t need to be scandals.”

And UNC has felt the blow of scandals over past two years, all beginning with a tweet by former UNC football player Marvin Austin. The tweet drew attention to Austin’s lavish lifestyle—and ultimately an NCAA investigation of the university’s football program. This subsequently surfaced “irregularities” in the African and Afro-American Studies Department.

“The NCAA has been in crisis mode since 1906 when it was founded,” Bilas said. “It was founded in scandal. It has continued in scandal and will stay in scandal unless there’s change in the way the rules are structured and the way that the governance is structured.”

Chapelboro.com’s Art Chansky has covered college sports since 1970. He agrees with Bilas that it’s not just “amateur” sports any more and things need to be rectified.

Chansky speaks to panel
“Well there’s no question that there are big changes coming in college athletics,” Chansky said. “It’s already started with the realignment and eventually I believe it’ll be one super-division of the NCAA that will re-write its own rule book.”Chansky says there are many issues, though, that may come about if players are paid. Will the non-profit NCAA lose it tax its exemption? What about workers’ compensation?“And I think it will start maybe on an experimental level,” Chansky said. “I would like to see the ACC take the front position on that and test out a certain pay-for-play scale.”

Bilas posed the question: “How would we pay the wrestler versus the star quarterback? Should we provide the men and the women the same thing?” His answer was a free-market system.

Though NCAA president Mark Emmert has adamantly argued against paying players, the topic is not going away. As Chansky said, the climate of college athletics has already begun to change.

Bilas, Holden Thorp, Bubba Cunnigham, Woody Durham (back to camera)