Time for Colleges to make a choice

| April 25, 2013

imagesDeparting UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said more than he knew in a recent interview with The News and Observer. Thorp said that dealing with intercollegiate athletics was the most important part of the job of chancellor. Notice it wasn’t educating students, training future thinkers and leaders, undertaking research or attracting the best faculty possible. Thorp admitted what many in higher education privately acknowledge: Athletics is driving the institution, not the other way around, and every day it gets worse.

Thorp’s proposed solution was to turn athletics over to the Athletic Directors, relieving presidents of the responsibility. That’s exactly the wrong thing to do in our opinion, akin to turning the prison over to the inmates. That is what has gotten us into this mess. As any chief executive will tell you, you can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility. For too many years college presidents and trustees have enjoyed the big money that comes from major sports programs and counted on their Athletic Directors to be accountable. It hasn’t worked as evidenced by the recruiting, academic and even athletic abuses taking place under their noses. Bill Friday and the Knight Commission warned them of this more than 30 years ago.

Colleges and universities have three choices: One, they completely disassociate themselves from their athletic programs, making them club teams or town teams like you often find in Europe. The University would give over controls and revenues, risking not just the millions that come along with big conference affiliations but also the big dollar donations that come from alumni and supporters. That’s not going to happen.

The second and harder choice is for the president or chancellor to bring the Athletic program into their office and administer it directly, like other programs. At first blush this would move them from the fire to the frying pan, but the reality is, as Thorp admitted, they are already there.

The third choice is to downsize the size and importance of their sports programs, drop out of big-time conferences and return to more of the intramural notion of sport for the fun of sport. But that’s not going to happen either…the dollars are too important and too big.

Don’t look for help from the NCAA. They are worse than a two-dollar crack addict hooked on the dollars and won’t pull the string on the networks paying them big bucks. Likewise, the conferences are similarly addicted to dollars, as evidenced by the absurd expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference, which now has a footprint that looks like a Rorschach ink blot test.

The window of opportunity to control college athletics is closing and it is time our institutions of higher learning made their stand. Will they stand with the dollars, in which case they need to stop whining and admit they are sports machines that have an education component, or will they return to their core mission of educating our future leaders?

Category: Education, SPIN Blog

Comments (3)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. R. Evans says:

    Tom, I think you answered your own question. Your three options in reality aren’t options at all. It would seem more accurate to characterize the situation for what it is; a purging of corruption that should have been done a long time ago. The political complicity & coverup by the majority of the media on the multi-decade corruption at UNC-CH is criminal. Does anyone really believe Dean Smith coached 30 something years and NEVER had an NCAA violation? And had it not been for the PackPride message boards exposing the fraudulent McAdoo paper along with other UNC-CH fraud, none of this corruption would have seen the light of day even now. Finally, the Raleigh News & Observer jumped on board and has done a great job of exposing some huge gaps of compliance, but because of the organized coverup and stonewalling by UNC-CH, they are continuing to cheat and defraud. UNC-CH’s Mary Willingham said so in a recent N&O article.

  2. dj anderson says:

    Tom is right, but the window for change has been closed, shuddered and the lights are off in side. We are closer to the Athletic Dept. changing the ridiculous academic requirements.

    Sports have become a religion to the masses. Remember the Sabbath and keep it sporty. Sunday morning people attend the political talking heads and on Sunday afternoon they tune in to the current sport or go outside seeking eternal life by exercising running or riding bikes past the churches on Sunday mornings.

    Tens of thousands of people who never went to college identify with Duke and sport UNC Rams on the back window. Rollerball was the 1970s vision of what the public wants — a diversion from reality — and now football and basketball is doing it in real life.

    Blame the instant replay and great camera work. NCSU has distinguished professors holding patents and awards, but most can’t name a one of them. Putting numbers on researchers’ backs won’t do the trick.

    I can see the time coming when NCSU will de-emphasize agriculture to expand the stadium. Remember when the fair was truly an agricultural fair?

    Laws to tax college sports, end tax exemptions, pay players as the professional employees they are, and have lawsuits by professional sports which have to compete with state run, tax exempt enterprises brought to the courts.

    Trouble is the truth is that only a dictator can overrule and overrun the will of the masses in a democracy. Sports have gone viral!

    Tom is right. Will Friday was right until the day he died, but who and how and when and where will change come from? Attack the pocketbook!

  3. Tom Hauck says:

    Thank you for your weekly commentary and the weekly TV show. You always make me think and I appreciate that. I read the same article and thought “what a load of BS”. He says he would have taught kids to save the world except that his time was taken up by the athletes.

    Other considerations that you have not mentioned are that most of the “problems” were not caused by the Athletics Department. There was the academic department of Afro-American studies that gave grades to athletes and non athletes for not doing any work. There was the young woman that spoke up about an alleged sexual assault and was told to complain to the “Honor” Court (run by students — or the inmates who are responsible for running the asylum), rather than taking additional steps to examine the claim.

    The solution is to hire someone who is qualified to do the job. The job includes the entire university not just parts of the university.

    I have looked at the qualifications of the incoming chancellor and I fear for more scandals at UNCCH.