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Thursday March 23rd

Rawlings report emphasizes culture change

Hunter Rawlings acknowledges in a culture where problems with big-time athletics have plagued universities across the country, there are many reports completed — but not much reform comes out of them.

Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, presented his panel’s findings Tuesday on the relationship between academics and athletics at UNC, which he says should not result in complacency.

The recommendations

The panel recommended 28 steps for the University. Here are three of the significant suggestions:

  • Institute a mandatory education program for UNC coaches on the University’s academic mission
  • Conduct regular internal and external audits every four years
  • Consider a “year of readiness” that would have “special admit” freshmen sit out for a year

“It is our hope that these recommendations will be taken seriously and work will be taken to put them in action,” Rawlings said during a conference call.

The report is just one of more than eight reviews, investigations and panels conducted in the past three years that examined imbalances between the two parts of the University.

After months of work, the five-member panel of leaders in higher education and athletics released 28 recommendations. The panel was appointed by former Chancellor Holden Thorp earlier this year in response to a 2012 faculty report after ongoing academic fraud was revealed.

The panel’s report focuses on the oversight of athletics by the chancellor, financial considerations and the admissions, treatment and eligibility of athletes.

“We did not go through in detail the policies at Chapel Hill with present governance strategies, but
it does speak to the chancellor leading the parade and delegating to the athletic director,” said Jim Delany, a member of the panel and the commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.

“The more you can identify and nail down these bright lines, the better you can ensure institutional control.”

Mary Willingham, an academic counselor and a former reading specialist for the academic support program, said in an email the report didn’t immediately change her opinion on what needs to be done.

“Let’s be honest, we have had countless reports and we still have athletes who are not getting served a real opportunity for an education here at Carolina, and at colleges and universities across the country.”

Aligning priorities

The report made several financial recommendations,including that athletic conferences or the NCAA consider a spending cap on sports teams.

“Our panel believes we’re reaching a tipping point in intercollegiate athletics because there’s so much revenue pouring into athletics,” Rawlings said.

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said he was uncertain about the feasibility of a cap.

“The likelihood of a cap I don’t think is very realistic because getting people to limit their spending on something they’re passionate about is going to be a significant challenge,” he said in an interview.

The panel also recommended that UNC publish its NCAA financial records and athletic department budget.

But Martina Ballen, UNC’s senior associate director of athletics for business and the department’s chief financial officer, said there needs to be more discussion about financial transparency to understand exactly what the report is calling for.

“I didn’t speak with (the panel) directly so I am not sure exactly what they mean, because we are a public institution,” she said. “If anyone wants to look at our budget we will provide it.

“But we don’t post it out on the web so it’s not like you could type in ‘athletic department
budget’ and you go to a link and go to our budget.”

Ballen said her main concern based on initial thoughts is that the budget is complicated and difficult to understand at first glance.

Jay Smith, a history professor who has been critical of the University’s response to the scandal, said in an email he wished the report was more specific, such as what the role of the Faculty Athletics Committee should be.

“They really only gestured toward the elephant in the room — the revenue model and what’s to be done about it — but a lot of their recommendations can be implemented independent of financial considerations,” he said.

‘Students first’

The report focuses on many issues surrounding eligibility of student athletes, and discusses
several different topics related to admissions.

Stephen Farmer, vice provost of enrollment and admissions, said the department had already changed many of the practices outlined in the report, such as providing additional support for athletes that they predict will have a GPA of 2.3 or lower.

Rawlings said some recommendations would be hard to implement, such as a proposal
that specially admitted freshmen athletes with academic difficulties remain ineligible to play their first year.

“The most challenging ideas are for new initiatives that have been considered for many years but never taken,” he said.

John Stephens, a political science professor, said at the Faculty Athletics Committee’s
meeting Tuesday that this was a point worth considering.

“Would it be wise, and could we convince others in the ACC to work on this together?” he
said. “I don’t think it would be practical for UNC to do it on its own given the questions of
competitive balance.”

Farmer said the nuances of some recommendations must be considered before they are implemented.

“Having a year to concentrate on academics, for some students in this category, that’s absolutely the right approach,” said Farmer. “For others, that might be counterproductive.”

Moving forward

UNC has taken several measures recently regarding athletics, including the creation of a group, the Student Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group, led by Provost Jim Dean and Cunningham, which will examine how the University can encourage athletes’ academic success.

Dean said in an interview earlier this month that the group planned to use the recommendations created by the Rawlings panel.

Rawlings also said UNC is in a position to be a leader and example for other athletics programs across the nation.

“UNC has been running a superb athletics program that has kept itself out of problems other programs have had until quite recently,” Rawlings said.

Farmer, a member of the working group, said it will continue to gather information on athletics and use the Rawlings report.

“The recommendations outline good things for us to think about,” Farmer said. “They outline good things for us to act on. The fact of the matter is, we’ve acted on a lot of the things in the report.

“That doesn’t mean the panel was wrong to recommend those things again. My
understanding of the audience is, it’s bigger than UNC, it’s for the world. I hope that now other schools will learn from UNC.”

Senior writer Daniel Schere contributed reporting.

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