CHAPEL HILL — Larry Fedora was one of 31 individuals who, between May and June, met with a University of North Carolina faculty subcommittee to discuss ways to bridge the divide between athletics and academics at UNC. Fedora said on Saturday that he hopes to build a stronger working relationship with the university’s faculty.
“I don’t know that you can do it overnight or in the short time that I’ve been here,” said Fedora, the Tar Heels’ head football coach whom the university hired last December. “But I’ve started building some relationships with as many of the faculty as I can. And hopefully I’ll be able to do that in a certain amount of time.”
Fedora arrived in January at UNC with the expectation that the problems that hung over the football program – and the athletic department – would soon be a thing of the past. The NCAA penalties following its investigation into impermissible benefits and academic fraud scandals in March, but other issues have continued to surface.
In early May UNC released the findings of an internal investigation into the African and Afro-American Studies department. The probe discovered 54 problematic classes over a period of several years, and a high percentage of football and basketball players filled many of the suspect courses, some of which featured little to no instruction.
A three-member faculty subcommittee released an additional report on July 26, which described “a campus with two cultures” – one athletic and one academic. The faculty’s report called for an independent review of the relationship between athletics and academics at UNC.
Fedora, whose team began preseason practice on Friday, said the recent revelations have resulted in “no more baggage, [and] no more handicap” for his program, which because of the NCAA sanctions, will serve a one-year postseason ban while enduring the loss of five scholarships in each of the next three recruiting cycles.
“Once it all came out, we just addressed it and moved on,” Fedora said. “I don’t know of anything new that’s come out. I think a lot of things get brought up constantly. That may be the frustrating part, is that it hasn’t died yet. But eventually it will.”
During his short time at UNC, Fedora said he hasn’t sensed a rift between athletics and the faculty.
“But I will say this,” he said. “On any college campus in the country … it’s probably not as close of a connection with the faculty and the athletic department as a lot of people want to think there is. There’s always some difference, because the two don’t interact a lot.
“I mean, there’s a lot of times with the department, you’re over here coaching football and you don’t get to spend time with the faculty. And they don’t come over here, so you don’t get to know each other as well. So hopefully we’ll be able to build a relationship as we go.”
On the field, at least, Fedora is still working to establish relationships with his players. He worked with them for 15 practices during the spring, and said on Saturday that he was pleased with how much the Tar Heels had retained since their final spring practice in April.
And despite revelations that continue to trouble faculty members, UNC’s players have viewed the start of the preseason as something of a fresh start. Those who were around last year began practice days after UNC fired Butch Davis amid the NCAA investigation.
Two years ago, the Heels began practice amid the early stages of the impermissible benefits scandal. On Saturday at UNC’s annual media day, most of the questions related to football – which is something that couldn’t be said of the recent past. And those questions that didn’t – like ones about the postseason ban – didn’t seem to bother players who have been through more difficult days.
“It’s not frustrating at all,” senior defensive tackle Sylvester Williams said. “Because at the end of the day, you’ve got to just realize this – if the people that go to college say I’m playing for a bowl game, then they’re going to college for the wrong reasons.”
Bryn Renner, the junior quarterback, compared his wait to start the preseason to one a child might experience leading up to Christmas.
“Spring was kind of a little teaser,” he said, “because we wanted to get started in fall camp … we had 100 days to kind of get ready. And really [Friday] was just like Christmas. I could compare it to that. Because we were just so happy to get on the field.”