Panelists discuss potential reforms for big-time college athletics as UNC awaits its NCAA fate

Video by Zach Evans / The Daily Tar Heel

The Southern Historical Collection, Friends of the Library, and the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History sponsored a panel discussion regarding collegiate sports featuring Taylor Branch, William C. Friday, and Charles T. Clotfelter.

The first step to reforming college sports won’t be taken by the much-scrutinized NCAA, but by universities themselves.

Taking the initiative to promote change within the NCAA on a conference level was a central theme by panelists at a UNC discussion Tuesday night on reform in college sports.

The University still awaits the NCAA’s verdict on its football program in response to allegations of improper academic assistance from a tutor, failures of institutional oversight and impermissible benefits to players issued last summer.


Big-Time College Sports: What Needs to Change?
Tuesday night – Sonia Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History

Panel discussion with former UNC President William C. Friday, Pulitzer prize-winner Taylor Branch, author and Duke University professor Charles T. Clotfelter

Author of To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever Will Blythe moderates.

Tuesday’s panel did not focus on the investigation, but instead speculated on a broad array of possible changes nationally, united by the agreement that universities will benefit from leading the charge.

Suggested future scenarios included paying student athletes up to $50,000 in salaries, a salary cap and even the eventual disintegration of the NCAA.

Former UNC-system president Bill Friday channeled his experience as one of the founding co-chairmen of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics to discuss ways that universities can band together.

“Several big-time schools have got to sit down together and say this deterioration in intercollegiate athletics has got to stop,” Friday said.

Panelist Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University professor and author of a book about big-time college sports, said reform needs to be university-driven.

“If you want reform, don’t look first at ESPN,” he said.

“Go to the Board of Trustees in our universities and say what you want to them.”

The balance of power between colleges and the NCAA results in fear from both parties, said panelist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Taylor Branch, who wrote an article in The Atlantic magazine titled, “The Shame of College Sports.”

The topic hit closer to home when former UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop addressed the panel about UNC’s NCAA experience.

“Where I sit, the players, as they face the NCAA, had no advocates. In fact, they were instructed not to get lawyers. I was instructed as a coach that I am not allowed to speak out,” Shoop said. “What could this University have done differently integrity-wise in the procedures?”

Branch said the NCAA and UNC are going to blame each other for the punishment.

“They both are going to say it’s the other guy because they are both aware they are not giving the students rights,” Branch said.

The allegations and sanctions during the past few years at major universities highlight the problem of preserving academic integrity at many top athletic schools.

Incentives for student athletes to graduate and perform well academically are few and far between, panelists said.

Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission, said in an interview that the body has drafted a proposal to the NCAA that suggests a change in revenue distribution, because throughout recent years athletic spending has doubled academic spending.

“The financial incentives need to be changed so that they are better aligned with the educational values of college sports,” she said.

“We want to put the college back in college sports.”

But financial support for student athletes might be the solution, Branch argued.

He said student athletes can be compared to types of slaves under the NCAA, and even though they are glorified, they are mistreated, which is why paying athletes should not be considered “dirty.”

“If you’re not a scholarship athlete, and if you wanted to get a job, and the University said you had to concentrate on your studies, you would be outraged.”

Clotfelter said any reform to the NCAA, no matter the method, is not going to be easy.

“Not that I don’t want reform to happen, but based on my studies, it’s going to be much harder than you would think.”

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