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The Daily Tar Heel

The board talks with Jay Smith about athletics reform

The issue of big money in college athletics, and its relationship to universities across the country, needs to be addressed. Jay Smith, a history professor, believes the University’s athletics reform group could be a catalyst for discussion and change.

In the wake of last summer’s revelations regarding academic dishonesty and classes with large enrollment of student athletes, Smith said the athletics reform group “has helped fill a vacuum about public discussion” and brought in the perspective of the faculty.

The group meets about once a month, “usually in response to some event” that has some bearing on athletics.

Although the group has met regularly for nearly a year, it has been less concerned with specific policy prescriptions than fostering discussion.

This semester, the group’s main focus has been “moving the conversation on campus” with the goal of agitating for public forums or town hall meetings in the spring.

The group believes it’s important for the University to discuss athletic reform in the spring, before the new chancellor takes office.

Smith hopes that Chancellor Holden Thorp, in the last few months of his tenure, will have “started a robust conversation” that could continue into the new chancellorship.

This would provide the University with the foundation and knowledge to make any necessary changes when the new chancellor steps in.

The group has addressed three major points of emphasis. The first centers around the education that athletes are — or are not — receiving. Faculty members are responsible for providing a meaningful, proper education for all their students.

However, as Smith points out, evidence has surfaced indicating that “some of our athletes are skating by or being ushered through a weakened or watered-down curriculum.” Smith names this as one of the primary concerns of the group.

The University’s handling of academic dishonesty is another focus of the group. Members of the athletics reform group are convinced that “the University — more so than any institution — should be a model of integrity, with transparency as its guiding principle.”

During the past few years, UNC has, at times, shied away from openness, particularly in regards to the academic scandal. Smith and others in the group are right to push for more honesty and transparency within our community, and to be concerned with “the University’s sometimes awkward public handling of the whole issue.”

In order to move forward as a more transparent institution, Smith believes it is necessary for the University “to use our own embarrassing situation — use our own humiliation essentially — to launch a national conversation.”

Indeed, for our University to move forward, we must learn and grow from our past failures.

Smith noted that the conversation doesn’t end on this campus either. The problem we are facing isn’t restricted to one or two universities.

One of the most pressing issues facing college athletics is the moral hazard that can come with big-time, big-money sports.

Smith discussed the importance of the philosophical issues of college athletics, which are often ignored. The fact that student athletes’ labor brings in lots of money to universities but that the athletes themselves don’t get to see any of the profits is “a form of hypocrisy we haven’t addressed.”

He went on to say that University officials are particularly guilty of ignoring the fact that “big-time sport is an enormous money-making enterprise,” where the distribution of the wealth gained is “unjust and inconsistent.”

While Smith thinks college sports teams can and should exist, he favors a system that would have these teams be “separate, autonomous commercial entities that have relatively little connection to the academic institution.”

Overall, the group doesn’t have an official opinion about how college athletics fit in with academics, with the opinions of group members on the issue representing a “mixed bag.” The one thing they all agree on is that “discussion should take place.”

Regardless of what members of the athletics reform group believe, the question of the morality and ethics of college athletics will — for the foreseeable future — be one of controversy and great importance.

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Kareem Ramadan is an editorial board member for The Daily Tar Heel.