August 29, 2014

An interview with UNC AD Bubba Cunningham: Part II

Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, answers questions about the NCAA reopening its investigation, the Smith Center and Roy Williams' future.

Bubba Cunningham is entering his third full academic year as the athletic director at North Carolina. He recently sat down with me for an extended interview about the changing landscape of college sports, the NCAA's decision to reopen its investigation into academic issues at UNC, Roy Williams' future and other topics.

You can find the first part of the interview right here. And here is the second part:

Andrew Carter: The NCAA recently reopened its investigation into academic issues, and the relationship between the athletic department and suspect African- and Afro-American Studies courses. What's your level of concern with the NCAA reopening the case?

Bubba Cunningham: Well you know I worry every day. That's part of my job, is to worry. That's constant. They reopened the case because there's new information available. The new information was some interviews that Ken Wainstein was able to get that we weren't previously able to get. So it didn't surprise us that that would happen. But certainly, any time you're in an investigation, you worry. So I don't know where it could lead or what the outcome might be.

AC: Has the NCAA started its investigation or is it waiting for Ken Wainstein to finish his – what's your understanding of your level of activity with the case?

BC: Well, yeah, they do a lot of work. They've been doing a lot of work ever since they announced it.

AC: So the NCAA has been on campus conducting interviews?

BC: Yeah. Now I don't go into a lot of detail because once I start down that path, I can't. But we've been working very closely with them since we announced it.

AC: What's your best-case scenario in terms of when the NCAA investigation might end?

BC: You know, it would really be a guess so I'd hate to even speculate on it.

AC: How frustrating is this, to be mired in this again?

BC: It's fatiguing. It's been fatiguing for the whole university for, I don't know, probably four years now. So I do think we're hoping to get through it. We have another (investigation) – the Wainstein investigation, report, sometime this fall. So we're hoping that each of these will be elements of our turning point. We've tried to get to the finish a line a number of times and haven't been able to get there successfully, so we're certainly hoping that this will be the one.

AC: Rashad McCants over the summer was critical of his experience at UNC. The athletic department has tried to contact him. Have you been successful yet in reaching him?

BC: No.

AC: What's your confidence level in the other side of McCants' story?

BC: Well, I think we've provided a great experience to many, many students. And I've talked to a lot of the other players – I've talked to student-athletes in every sport that we have about their experience while they're here – and I haven't heard any give me the same story that I watched on television and read in the paper. They're all very proud of their experience.

AC: What's the latest on the Smith Center talks, the prospect of renovations and a new arena and where do you think that's headed?

BC: Not much. I think when we started talking about the facility master plan for the whole department, I've talked about soccer and Fetzer and then said if we're going to do that, is there a funding model associated with basketball that could help fund those – that's when we really started talking about it. But given the issues that we've had institutionally, the transitions we've had in leadership, we're going to try to package all of that with the (yet-to-be-announced fundraising) campaign, and then say, OK, what do we want to look like in the next 15 to 20 years? And so we'll reengage the conversation but it's been pretty much on the back burner for 12 months.

AC: How important is it to get to a point where the Smith Center generates more revenue?

BC: Well, it generates revenue now. Obviously, we generate a lot more than we spend in men's basketball. But premium seating does give you another chance to accelerate revenue. But that's not something that's critical. Plus, as we operate in the state system and in the university, we have to take a look at our debt limits as an institution. And so just because we say, hey, let's do this, doesn't mean we can do it. There are fiscal requirements, or limitations, university-wide that would limit us from doing that. And we just can't take on $300 million in debt or, pick a number - $100 million. It's got to be something that we can pay back.

AC: Roy Williams has been saying for a while now that he sees himself coaching six to 10 more years. When do you start thinking of what happens beyond his tenure?

BC: He's said six to 10 ever since I've been here, and I love hearing six to 10. So I'm counting on six to 10. But yeah, I worry about that. I mean, he's had some health issues. Sylvia (Hatchell) has. You worry about that – you worry about all of our coaches.

AC: He can be sensitive to criticism, and it hasn't been an easy time for him and his program. Have you seen the turmoil wearing on him at all?

BC: I see toughness, I see passion and that's what I see. And I see competitive success. The guy's one of the most competitive people I've ever met. So he's tough. And I marvel at that. That's what I want to continue to see.

AC: He loves golf, too, and some days I imagine playing golf would be a lot easier than dealing with what he's had to deal with recently.

BC: It's hard for somebody that competitive to say they don't want to play. And by saying what you said, that's what that means – I don't want to be in the game anymore. Competitive guys want to be in the game. In fact, they want the ball at the end. That's who I think he is.

AC: You're entering your third full year as athletic director, what are some of your most important goals for the next year or so?

BC: Within the university I'd like to see a restored confidence in the ability to have an outstanding university with a great athletic program. I think our confidence has been shaken. And I think we need to regain that. I think we can build upon the leadership team we have and the issues that we've had in the past and how we can get better. I feel good about all that. So at the end of the year, if we can get through it and restore our confidence, I think that's probably as much as I would hope for from a big-picture standpoint.

Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter at @_andrewcarter .

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