Panel led by Hunter Rawlings says athletic, academic link is broken


Members of the Hunter Rawlings Panel hear closing remarks from Chancellor Holden Thorp on Friday, April 19th.

Community members voiced one main concern at a panel meant to resolve issues with UNC’s relationship between academics and athletics: The system is broken.

A panel led by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, met Friday with an audience of about 100 in Murray Hall.

“Today, we are really here to listen,” Rawlings said. “We’re not looking back — we’re looking forward.”

The panel, formed by Chancellor Holden Thorp in response to recent scandals, is led by Rawlings and includes four leaders in higher education. It is tasked with making recommendations on how to resolve the issues facing schools with Division I athletic programs like UNC.

And while panel members refrained from discussion, anyone who attended could speak.

UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham spoke first and introduced the ideas he said should be considered in today’s Division I schools, including reworking NCAA governance structures and promoting athletes’ financial and academic success.

He said these concerns originated in 1984 when Nike sponsored Michael Jordan while he was a student.

“Companies realized the value of celebrity athletes,” Cunningham said. “We lost control of amateur in the AAU.”

Thorp said giving athletic control to university presidents and chancellors had the unintentional consequence of bringing governing boards closer to athletics — and some members are there solely for that reason, he said.

He recommended putting athletic directors back in charge of athletic administration and said giving presidents final say in athletics decisions has not worked.

“They don’t have experience in this — most of us were working in the lab or the library doing research,” Thorp said. “I certainly didn’t know enough to run college athletics five years ago.”

Jay Bilas, an ESPN analyst and former Duke basketball player, criticized the NCAA’s structure, where profits go to all involved except players.

He said the NCAA’s claim of being an arena for amateur athletes is a sham.

“Why are we restricting this one class of people from receiving more than expenses?” Bilas asked.

“It has created an underground economy — it has created scandals that really don’t need to be scandals.”

Richard Southall, director of the College Sport Research Institute at UNC, presented data on how athletes from lower-income backgrounds were being used by the current collegiate model.

“Is it ethical for the NCAA to operate a regressive model to redistribute the profits to more affluent coaches and administrators?” he asked.

History professor Jay Smith also scoffed at the relationship between academics and athletics.

He said the two departments operate on convergent and conflicting principles.

“The relationship between faculty and athletics needs to become more openly adversarial,” Smith said.

He said the business model the NCAA uses has made student-athletes a myth because it has made academics second priority for them.

Rawlings said these ideas will be taken into consideration in the next few months while the panel works to create its final recommendations.

“We want to see if we can’t come to grips with these problems in a bold way — no small recommendations about discrete items within athletics,” Rawlings said.

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