UNC Saga Continues
As surely as migrating birds head south in winter and north in spring, the college football con men leave their campuses during the recruiting season to sell the pot o’ gold at the end of every rainbow. These people, who can outtalk used car salesmen, are better known as head and assistant football coaches.
There are men of integrity in the profession. Their institutions do not run afoul of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules and regulations.
But there are those fast-talking fellows, who, if they lived a hundred years ago, might have been selling the Brooklyn Bridge to hayseed tourists in New York City.
Sadly, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with its self-proclaimed reputation for impeccable behavior in intercollegiate athletics, can no longer brag about running a squeaky clean program.
Too many UNC football recruits were sold a bill of goods by these con artists, misbehaved on their own or were led down the road of academic and athletic cheating by university employees.
With the NCAA poised to hand down its final rulings and punishments involving the Tar Heels, the university finally took the action that is inevitable in such cases and fired the head coach, Butch Davis, 11 days ago.
Chancellor Holden Thorp said the action was taken “to restore confidence in the University of North Carolina and our football program.”
This firing was followed shortly by the resignation of UNC’s director of athletics, Dick Baddour, effective upon hiring his replacement.
Davis was ousted July 27, or a year and two weeks, after the news first broke that a couple of North Carolina football players might have received favors from professional agents.
A month later, in August 2010, the university said it was investigating possible academic misconduct involving football players and a special tutor for them.
Then a month later, or last September, UNC declared seven players ineligible for the 2010 season, and associate head football coach, John Blake, resigned. Apparently, he was the go-between to connect player with pro agents.
It was fast becoming a collapsing house of cards at Chapel Hill, a crumbling structure that was once a proud edifice of intercollegiate honesty and pride if not of great success on the gridiron.
Through it all, Chancellor Thorp, whose academic discipline is chemistry, found himself in an ever bubbling and smelly stew of athletic corruption while he mistakenly remained too loyal for too long to Butch Davis. Finally, he rid the university of the man who headed the football program as it slipped into this quagmire of deceit. Then the AD had to go, also.
Davis should have been fired last winter, not nine days before the start of preseason practice.
One wonders if Thorp is aware that usually these major football powers that become perverted and dishonest eventually sweep the house clean of those accountable, including the head coach, the athletic director and the institution’s CEO. So far, Thorp is the only one of those three still standing in Chapel Hill.
Many fans are calling for Thorp’s ouster. But the loudest of these are members of the North Carolina booster group, the Rams Club. These non-student groups, loyal to college athletics more than college academics, have been a troublesome thorn in the side of many an intercollegiate athletic program and have often gotten institutions into trouble with the NCAA.
Meanwhile, Thorp announces the university will pay Davis close to $2.7 million in a buyout of his contract that had four more years remaining. Also, the Tar Heels just finished a $70 million renovation of Kenan Memorial Stadium.
All of those expensive shenanigans are going on while students at Chapel Hill and the other 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina complex are asked to ante up more cash for tuition almost every year and faculty members are let go as the recession causes belt tightening in academic departments.
Oh, sure, we all know how the athletic departments at these big time football and basketball powers do not consume state funds or any general funds of the university or college because the intercollegiate sports are paid for by big donations, ticket and merchandise sales, television revenues and other commercial sources. Don’t buy that for a minute. There are always public funds somewhere in the athletic mix.
Gene Corrigan, the former commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference (1987—1997), who lives in retirement in Charlottesville, Va., was one of the most highly respected intercollegiate sports executives of the 20th century. In a phone conversation last week, Corrigan said, “The thing that really concerns me is the money. The amount of money in college athletics now is incredible. It is trouble. This much money always is.”
These athletic departments, some of which have annual budgets of over $100 million, are completely separate entities not subject to annual budget controls the way each academic department is financed. This leads to athletic departments getting out of control because the CEO and board of trustees fail to have direct supervision of athletic budgets. Too often, anything goes in order to break even or make a profit.
Nevertheless, Chancellor Thorp is ultimately responsible and so is the president of the 17-campus University of North Carolina system, Thomas Ross. So far, he has not been heard from.
Granted, Ross only started as president last Jan. 1. But no one could imagine William Friday, president of the University of North Carolina system for 30 years (1956—1986), would keep silent if something was rotten in the Tar Heels’ intercollegiate athletic program during his tenure. Friday has been an active contributor to NCAA policy over the years.
In a cogent op-ed piece in the Raleigh News and Observer, last Tuesday, Robert F. Orr, former North Carolina Supreme Court justice and currently executive director of the North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law, wrote that the chancellor was the one person ultimately responsible for the academic standards at UNC.
Orr wrote that when North Carolina hired Butch Davis to produce a winning team in order to make the big bucks, he was to recruit the best National Football League prospects. “And if some of that talent was, shall we say, academically challenged, then the UNC administration would take care of that.”
I agree with Orr to a point. However, it was those con men on the football coaching staff who went around the nation selling North Carolina to 17 and 18-year-old high school student-athletes and, in the process, promising them the idea that they would get a good education at one of the country’s finest state universities.
Since the coaches are the ones who make the promises during their snake oil pitch to youngsters, it is incumbent upon those coaches as well as the CEO of the institution, to see that they fulfill their promises to those kids.
When you look at the graduation rate of football players at Colgate (100 percent), Notre Dame (99 percent), Northwestern (97 percent), Duke (97 percent), Lafayette (97 percent), Navy (96 percent) and Boston College (96 percent) you know it didn’t happen because some coaches made false promises during a phony recruiting talk. It happened because CEOs cared, coaches followed up, tutors pitched in with honest assistance and faculty members were there encouraging all along the road to a bachelor’s degree.
Too bad this sort of attitude was lost in the shouting and cheering for some athletes who tried their best while wearing Carolina Blue but were led astray by adults they trusted.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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