North Carolina

Athletes speak to UNC trustees about academic challenges

Posted March 27, 2014

— The contentious relationship between athletics and academics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was once again in the spotlight Thursday as six student-athletes addressed the Board of Trustees about the challenges they face each day. 

Football players Ryan Switzer, Tim Scott and Kemmi Pettway, along with basketball player Marcus Paige, were four of the six athletes who were asked by Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham to speak out on the topic in light of the recent national media coverage of a scandal at UNC. 

Switzer, a sophomore on coach Larry Fedora's football team, told the board that student-athletes learn self-discipline because they must balance two busy schedules. 

"It can be a struggle, but some of the people that can fight through and make it are some of the most disciplined people you would ever meet," he said. "I've become so self-disciplined, I don't keep a calendar anymore. It's all in my head."

Cunningham said he thinks there may be ways to better organize scheduling to help student-athletes manage their responsibilities. 

"I think we should really take a hard look at time and see if there is a better way to organize the day so that students can get a full educational experience," he said. 

Cunningham also reiterated his commitment to educating student-athletes. 

"There are two things that are very important to me. One is creating a great educational experience for students who play in a collegiate sport, and two is creating the maximum number of opportunities for kids to go to college and participate in a sport," he said.

Board of Trustees member Dwight Stone said the school has taken some "undeserved shots from the media," but he assured the athletes that board members support them. 

On Tuesday, ESPN and HBO aired dueling specials focusing on the academic fraud scandal involving the university and its student-athletes. 

A 2012 investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found problems in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies dating to 1997 and placed blame on former department chairman Julius Nyang'oro and a retired administrator. Nyang'oro was indicted in December on a fraud charge for collecting payments for classes that never met.

The university has since tightened up its policies, but UNC President Tom Ross and Chancellor Carol Folt recently hired a former U.S. Justice Department attorney to comb through the case file the State Bureau of Investigation compiled during a probe that led to Nyang'oro's indictment to determine if other changes are needed.

Board member Charles Duckett asked athletes on Thursday if they had ever been steered toward a particular major or course of study. 

"There was definitely no one telling us what to do or even pushing us," Paige said. "When I came on my visit, I really wanted to major in English. When I got here, I changed. No problem. They were very cool with it. They don't try to push you in any way. It's definitely a no."

Switzer agreed but also said that he decided not to major in nursing because of the time commitments he has with the football team. 

"I learned quickly I wasn't going to be able to, that time just wouldn't allow me, and that's OK because I love what I do with football," he said. "Some things have got to give."

Paige said he doesn't spend a lot of time in study hall, but mentioned that the academic support staff helps students manage school and sport. 

"They make sure you have the help you need and resources available," he said. "It would have been very tough to get (accepted to the university) without being a basketball player, and it's allowed me to experience the academics as well. Coach (Williams) cares about us off the court and wants us to be better men as well."

Folt said Thursday that there are six areas in which the university plans to better serve student-athletes – improving academic preparedness, quality of education provided, health and wellness, looking at how student-athletes spend their time, resources available to student-athletes and increased representation in governance.


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  • unbiasedaccfan Mar 30, 2014

    I would agree that it is the 1% that is the issue and 99% of UNC athletes probably do things the right way. But it is the 1% that that was led by UNC athletic representatives to these No-SHow classes, fake papers, etc., that is the problem. It only takes 1 person, not even 1%, to be an NCAA violation. What is disappointing is that UNC continues to deny and coverup the facts. Admit it and let the chips falls where they may.

  • Jeanne Gunn Mar 28, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    I fully appreciate the burden of student loans, but like you said, life is all about choices, and Switzer made his choice. I understand a scholarship is a tough thing to pass up. Maybe a voucher system where a student/athlete can come back and complete their degree - as part of the scholarship, at a later time would be more equitable?

  • Jeanne Gunn Mar 28, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Thank you for answering the Million-Dollar (literally) question, Ken. There has been so much discussion about the student/athlete being "exploited" and "taken advantage" of, when they're not getting a "real" education. To me, the question that no one has even asked is, "Do these kids REALLY want an education?" I'm not speaking about the majority of athletes, I'm speaking of the blue chip recruits who come to play mainly basketball and football. It seems many of these players emphasize the "athlete" part of the student/athlete equation, with both eyes on the NFL or the NBA and not on the classroom.

  • Alex25 Mar 28, 2014

    Which banners come down -- ??

  • Objective Scientist Mar 28, 2014

    All this "back and forth" on this issue... what is the "truth"? Most likely it is, at UNC and likely every university in the USA, there are athletes - even football and basketball - who do great work in the class room and have the grades to prove it - some in majors regarded as "rigorous" academically. Those athletes truly want to be STUDENTS as well as athletes. At the other end of the spectrum are those athletes who would not have been offered admission if it were not for their athleticism - who care little or nothing about being a student and are focused on maximizing their opportunity to move to the NFL or NBA and "make big bucks" for playing a game... and perhaps, truth be known, they read only at a 5th grade level. Then... there is a group between those two! MOST athletes are likely in the big group in the middle. Which group is getting 95-98% of the attention? The answer is obvious! If universities stopped admitting athletes in THAT group - we'd have no problem!

  • CHAMPS 17 09 05 93 82 57 24 Mar 28, 2014

    If anyone would like to claim the devaluation of a non-AFAM UNC degree, please provide salary and job placement statistics to back up your claims.

  • CHAMPS 17 09 05 93 82 57 24 Mar 28, 2014

  • heelsforever Mar 28, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Not any more true than saying a Carolina degree is worthless now. I've worked with many top notch engineers with NCSU degrees.

  • Mary is a liar Mar 27, 2014

    View quoted thread

    A state college degree has never been worth anything. You should know more than anyone JH.

  • 903 Free Paul Frampton 2 Mar 27, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I hear ya... But the problem for unc is that the 1% that are being highlighted either don't exist at other schools or haven't been exposed yet.

    And of course it hurts their cause even more that unc has been boasting about the "Carolina way" since anyone that reads the news can remember...




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