Athletic integrity remains key issue at UNC as new chancellor settles in
Posted October 10, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Success on the field and embarrassment off of it were cited by dozens who emailed new University of North Carolina Chancellor Carol Folt when she first took office this summer.
When Folt took over at UNC-CH on July 1, replacing Holden Thorp, the former provost and interim president at Dartmouth College said, “There is something special about America’s great public universities.” She then challenged the students, faculty and staff to share what they thought were two strengths and two weaknesses of UNC. She got nearly 250 responses and almost one-third of those pointed to the NCAA investigation of the football program and subsequent legal and academic fallout.
“I loathe the national embarrassment our sports programs have brought upon us,” one email from a current student read. “I love to root for our basketball and football teams as much as anyone else, and I love to revel in their successes. Nevertheless, if I had to choose between success in sports and the reputation (of) the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reputation wins by a country mile.”
WRAL News reviewed Folt’s emails as the result of a public records request.
Athletic integrity remains a hot-button issue as the fallout from a years-long scandal involving the football team continues. The scandal, dating back to early 2010, involved agent dealings, academic fraud and improprieties and other off-the-field issues. It led to the team forfeiting wins, players being suspended and losing eligibility and prompted an academic review of the African and Afro-American Studies department.
The scandal costs jobs both athletic and academic, and some even called for Thorp to take the fall.
“If your desire is to restore confidence in the university, you should start with two resignations,” an email dated July 27, 2011 to Thorp from an alumnus read. “It is obvious that you do not care about the athletes affected or about the opinions of a majority of alumni.”
UNC fired football head coach Butch Davis amid the scandal and saw Director of Athletics Dick Baddour step down from his position. The chair of the AF-AM department and a second person working in the department resigned. Numerous academic reviews seeking the depth of the issues – improper grade changes, no-show classes and plagiarism – have since transpired.
“I don’t like that the athletic tail wags the academic dog,” wrote Michelle Cofield. “I know that’s a clunky metaphor but, for several years, big time athletics (your revenue sports) have called the shots and have caused my beloved Tar Heels to be on the national stage in a bad way.”
UNC faculty and students told Folt they worry about the amount of money spent on athletics, and that student-athletes are not held to UNC’s academic standards.
“To heal from the recent athletic scandals, we need to look more closely at the admissions decisions regarding specially admitted student-athletes,” suggested Bradley Bethel, a reading and writing specialist who works in the athletic support program for student-athletes. “There have been many student-athletes who were specially admitted whose academic preparedness is so low they cannot succeed here.”
UNC, according to the website businessofcollegesports.com, spent more than $70 million on athletics in 2010-11, third highest in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The university ranked fourth in the conference in net athletic income at just over $660,000. In 2012, the ACC and ESPN extended a contract that will pay each school in the 14-team conference $17.1 annually through the 2026-27 season.
UNC’s football program, meanwhile, ranked dead last in the ACC and at the bottom 10 of BCS schools nationally in the latest Academic Progress Rate score released by the NCAA. The score represents a four-year snapshot of graduation and retention rates among players in a particular sport.
“I’m truly concerned that our university is giving way to the mega $$ that comes with high-level sports,” wrote a student.
“We need to work on having athletic programs that are consistent with the academic model of UNC Chapel Hill,” Diana Knechtel, a UNC alumnus, added. “We need to stop relying upon the revenue from athletics because that makes us make bad decisions.”
While many emails responding to Folt’s inquiry were negative, there were others that painted a more positive attachment to UNC athletics.
“I think UNC can be a powerhouse in both academics and athletics,” wrote a student who added that the No. 1 thing Folt must do in her time is attend a UNC-Duke game at the Dean Smith Center. “Some say the two are mutually exclusive, but I disagree.”
UNC’s football program went 8-4 under new head coach Larry Fedora in 2012, but was ineligible for postseason play due to NCAA sanctions as a result of the scandal. The basketball program, despite some off-the-court issues this past summer, has played in three consecutive NCAA tournaments.
“My heart swells when we go arm-in-arm to sing ‘Hark the Sound’ after a football or basketball game,” wrote Elizabeth Gunn, director of Data Management at UNC.