Panel proposes changes for academics-athletics balance at UNC

jstancill@newsobserver.comSeptember 3, 2013 

Hunter Rawlings

  • Rawlings panel recommendations

    1. Ensure that chancellor has ultimate authority and accountability for athletics

    2. Ensure that chancellor has delegated responsibility for athletics to athletic director.

    3. Clarify the role and responsibility of other officers, boards and committees, including faculty committees.

    4. Establish procedures to ensure that those with responsibility are able to manage athletics without undue influence from others inside or outside the university.

    5. Board of Trustees has fiduciary responsibility, delegated to the chancellor. Ensure that chancellor serves on the Educational Foundation (Rams Club) board and reviews club budgets and funding initiatives.

    6. Ensure that academic support program for athletes operates without undue influence from others, including coaches.

    7. Ensure that the compliance staff has sufficient independence from athletics staff.

    8. Ensure that admissions process for athletes is the same as for other students with special talents, including routing all communication between admissions and athletics through athletic director or his designee.

    9. Ensure that student-athletes are subject to same rules, disciplinary procedures and sanctions as other students.

    10. Establish standards relating to medical care provided to athletes. Coaches should have no hiring or other supervisory role with regard to medical or athletic training staff.

    11. Establish an annual internal audit and an external audit every four years on athletics procedures.

    12. Provide a method for staff to report to an external party any undue influence exerted by others on athletics.

    13. Revise the athletics budget report to clearly delineate the spending on athletes' educational or career development and cost of attendance from other operating costs such as staff salaries and team travel.

    14. Make financial data more transparent to the public, including data about long-term athletics debt and rates of change in athletic spending.

    15. Commit to maintaining responsible spending patterns in athletics.

    16. UNC-CH should take a leadership position in the ACC and a network of peers for broader changes to the Division I financial model for college sports.

    17. Conference or NCAA should establish spending caps on specific sports for team operating expenses.

    18. Conference or NCAA should explore ways to expand athletes' educational benefits through graduation or continued study if they leave school early.

    19. Conference or NCAA can create financial incentives based on athletic-to-academic spending ratios to discourage excessive spending on athletics.

    20. Revise revenue distribution from College Football Playoffs and NCAA Basketball Tournament to ensure that educational outcomes are valued.

    21. UNC-CH should develop a formal consortium of like-minded universities with similar academic standards to discuss creative solutions to problems in athletics.

    22. UNC-CH should ensure that quantitative academic performance of "special admits" athletes is similar to those in other categories.

    23. Qualitative assessments of "at-risk" prospective athletes should be conducted by admissions officials during recruiting.

    24. Final decision-making authority for admission of athletes must reside with academic and admissions staff.

    25. UNC-CH should consider requiring "year of readiness" for "special admit" athletes in the freshman year and advocate for this reform nationally. During readiness year, students would be ineligible to compete in varsity sports but would retain four years of athletic eligibility.

    26. Consider reducing the number of hours student-athletes devote to sports.

    27. UNC-CH and the ACC should develop mandatory education program for coaches.

    28. Within the first year, UNC-CH's executive leadership should seek advice from senior leadership at peer institutions concerning oversight responsibilities for athletics.

— Conference spending caps on sports teams. An end to freshman eligibility for at-risk student-athletes. A reduction in practice time demands. Mandatory education for coaches on the university’s academic standards.

These are some of the 28 recommendations from an outside panel that has studied how to better balance academics and athletics at UNC-Chapel Hill, a campus that has been rocked by scandal during the past few years.

The panel’s suggestions were released Tuesday, but already there is an acknowledgement that – as with past calls for reform – this report may also gather cobwebs on a shelf.

The panel, led by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, called on UNC-CH to lead a national discussion of suggested reforms in administrative oversight, financial transparency and autonomy of university officials when it comes to admissions, tutoring and other academic matters.

Rawlings said the time is ripe for a more serious national debate, as talk swirls around NCAA restructuring, a class-action suit about compensation for college athletes and the public demand for accountability in higher education spending.

“The tipping point comes now because there’s so much revenue pouring into intercollegiate athletics and the budgets for universities’ academic programs have been so tight in the past few years,” he said. “It’s out of balance.”

At UNC-CH, the athletics budget will reach $74 million this year, an increase of 44 percent in the past decade. At the same time, spending has dropped on the academic side since the recession hit.

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said that, in general, universities have spent more dollars without expanding opportunity for students.

“The infusion of money into college athletics has been tremendous in the last 30 years, and I don’t think anyone understood what that was going to mean to the institution,” he said. “I personally think that we missed the boat years ago when we didn’t increase the number of opportunities for kids to participate in sport. We’ve poured more and more money into existing sports.”

Cunningham is implementing a new strategic plan for the athletics department that includes components on finances, academics and training for coaches. He will also co-chair a university working group on the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative with UNC-CH's new provost, Jim Dean.

Cunningham said there were good ideas in the Rawlings report and that some would require a broader conversation among universities, conferences and the NCAA.

‘Year of readiness’

Recommendations cover areas of university governance, sports operations, financial transparency and admissions, eligibility and time commitment for student-athletes, among other issues.

Some proposals are sure to be controversial, including a “year of readiness” for athletes in the “special admissions” category, during which the athletes would not compete and would have limited practice. The report also suggests that the university impose a reduction in hours that athletes devote to sports.

Jim Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten conference and a UNC-CH alumnus, predicted some ideas won’t be embraced nationally.

“We all want the athlete to be successful athletically and have a reasonable chance to get a degree,” said Delany, a member of the panel. “I think it’s very clear that freshman ineligibility in a blanket sense will never happen.”

Cunningham said that a year of readiness is a reasonable idea, as long as four years of eligibility remained. “I would support that,” he said.

‘Intellectually and personally’

In admissions, the panel proposed that UNC-CH look at qualitative “attitudinal” measures of at-risk prospective athletes. “Specifically, the university should look to attract young men and women who want to grow intellectually and personally, and to earn a degree, not athletes who view their academic responsibilities and pursuits as a necessary nuisance,” the report said.

The panel further suggests that UNC-CH implement a mandatory education program for coaches to inform them of academic degree requirements and to promote ethics, effective communication, physical and emotional safety of athletes and child safety issues.

Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, said many coaches would welcome more formal professional development. Now, she said, the focus is on financial incentives for wins.

“As we all know, coaches are under great pressure to win and are increasingly viewed as being separated from the education mission of their universities,” said Perko, who served on the panel.

The report, while written for UNC-CH at the request of former Chancellor Holden Thorp, is aimed at all universities. Rawlings suggested that UNC-CH convene other similar universities to work on solutions to the tangled problems plaguing intercollegiate athletics.

Rawlings suggested that the university implement some common-sense limits, for example, on practice and playing time required of student-athletes, which now can exceed 40 hours a week.

“Carolina and other institutions should take a good strong look at trying to restore some balance there and making it clear that it's the academic priority that comes first,” he said.

University officials indicated they wanted to be part of a national conversation about changes in intercollegiate athletics, but they did not specify what reforms they endorsed.

The new chancellor, Carol Folt, was unavailable for comment, according to a university spokeswoman. In a news release, Folt said: “We thank Dr. Rawlings and a highly accomplished panel for the time they took to consider not only how Carolina, but how all other universities can ensure excellence in athletics and academics. Carolina will always take advantage of the opportunity to lead.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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