“I’m proud to be a Tar Heel.”
These were but some of the slogans I heard over and over during my four years as a student-athlete at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. These platitudes helped to build and reinforce the notion that we as UNC student-athletes held ourselves to a higher standard, did things the right way, with integrity, in all walks – on the playing field, in the classroom and in life. Win, lose or draw, at the end of the day we could hold our heads high, proud to represent a university with lofty academic standards to match our own athletic endeavors.
It was all a lie.
I’m still struggling to wrap my head around the massive scale of the athletic-academic scandal detailed in Kenneth Wainstein’s damning report. Yes, it’s true that many of these details have come out in bits and pieces over the past four years, yet such was my love for UNC I could not help but see the world through Carolina blue-colored glasses. No more. We now know the full extent of the truth, and that truth is shameful.
I said the student-athlete ideal was all a lie, but that perhaps goes too far. I know I never took any sham classes and earned every grade (good or bad) I received. What’s more, participating in collegiate athletics was instrumental in my growth toward becoming a mature adult, as I know it was for many of my teammates and friends. Through college sports we learned humility, teamwork, perseverance, leadership and the patience to marshal our efforts over months and years in order to achieve long-term goals. We enjoyed success, and we coped with failure.
It is clear that the problem that gave rise to the entire UNC academic-athletic fiasco is that many athletes were admitted who were unable to do the academic work expected. The whole system of sham courses was created and maintained with the express purpose of maintaining the eligibility of athletes who otherwise would not have cut it academically. The administration at UNC has already rolled out a number of changes and programs to help ensure that athletes now honestly keep up academically, yet these changes are just window dressing to a status quo that is already broken.
Fundamental changes must be made. We should require that the average SAT score of incoming scholarship athletes on any given team fall above the 33rd percentile for SAT scores of all incoming freshmen at that school. This rule would go a long way toward ensuring that athletes are admitted to a school where they have a chance to succeed academically without resorting to the type of fraud seen over 18 years at UNC.
Ideally, this standard would be applied nationally as an NCAA regulation, but I know such a change would be slow to be adopted. Therefore, I call on UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt to adopt voluntarily this standard as a reflection of a meaningful commitment to ensure that such a shameful scandal never happens again. We as a university lost our way, and how we respond will shape our identity going forward.
Folt needs to seize this opportunity to have UNC lead the way in the national reform of collegiate athletics. Help me to be again proud to be a Tar Heel.
Brock Baker was a Morehead Scholar and four-year member of the varsity cross country and track and field teams at UNC from 2005-2009. He is in his fourth year of medical school at UNC.