Report reiterates clash between UNC athletics, academics
Posted September 3, 2013
A panel of leaders in higher education released a report on Tuesday highlighting ways the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill can improve how it handles the "complex maze of athletics," particularly in regard to how athletics impact academic goals and campus life.
Headed by Hunter Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, the Rawlings Panel on Intercollegiate Athletics at UNC-Chapel Hill issued 28 recommendations to new Chancellor Carol Folt and also provided ideas for other universities facing similar challenges.
The panel recommended that academic support services for student-athletes should operate without "any undue influence by athletics officials and staff, including coaching staff" and that the unit in charge of enforcing compliance with NCAA rules have "sufficient independence from athletics staff" in order to meet its responsibilities.
The university made changes to that effect after the scandal that cost several football players their eligibility, led to the firing of then-coach Butch Davis and saw UNC miss out on a bowl last season.
Reviews by the UNC Board of Governors and former Gov. Jim Martin led to changes in academic advising for athletes and in how students are supervised in independent study classes.
"We make our recommendations primarily to the administration and faculty of UNC-CH, but we are fully cognizant of the national context for this report, and we make several suggestions we hope other universities will note and consider," Rawlings said.
"I think everyone is cognizant that something needs to be done."
The cost of big-time college sports – both to a university’s budget and to the purported education of student-athletes -- has increasingly been under a microscope after high-profile investigations at Chapel Hill, Auburn, Penn State and Texas A&M. The NCAA’s ability to police abuses of its amateur system, and even whether college athletes should be considered students or mere employees of the universities where they perform are questions swirling in the national zeitgeist.
"The balance between academics and athletics is now perilously close to going over the tipping point where I think the trend is simply not sustainable," Hunter Rawlings said Tuesday.
With academic outcomes in mind, the panel said that UNC-Chapel Hill should consider reducing the number of hours student-athletes devote to sports activities both locally and on the conference or national level.
Financially, the panel said UNC-Chapel Hill should revise its budget to clearly delineate the spending that supports student athletes' "educational, professional or career development" as opposed to other operating costs such staff salaries, recruiting or team travel. They also said UNC should make financial data more transparent to the public by publishing NCAA financial reports, the athletics department budget and additional financial data about long-term athletics debt and rates of change in athletics and academic spending.
To make sure the university continues to promote an atmosphere of compliance, the panel said the school should establish an internal and external audit every four years to test its adherence to new procedures.
"Institutions of higher learning exist primarily to discover and to disseminate knowledge; winning sporting events is peripheral to those basic missions," the panel said. "As a result, a university’s athletics program must fit within the context of its core missions, and in no way violate them. Herein lies the principal challenge of intercollegiate athletics, since an institution’s desire to win must always be balanced against the core interests of the institution as a whole."
The investigation last fall by Martin and a more recent one by the UNC Board of Governors singled out the Department of African and Afro-American Studies as a trouble spot for academic integrity but concluded that athletes weren't the driving force behind the irregularities.
In all, 216 courses in a nine-year span showed “anomalies,” and there were no fewer than 454 unauthorized grade changes over an 18-year period.
The Rawlings Panel included Jim Delaney, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, Bob Malekoff, associate professor and sports studies chair at Guilford College, and Patricia Timmons-Goodson, former associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.