North Carolina coach Larry Fedora on Wednesday night addressed his team after practice, like he usually does. Then he walked over to a group of UNC professors, who had gathered to watch the Tar Heels’ practice as part of the football team’s “invite a professor to practice” day.
This has become something of a tradition, Fedora said. Each player has an opportunity to invite one of their professors to watch UNC practice. A crowd of about 20 professors showed up on Wednesday. Tom Ross, the president of the University of North Carolina system, was among the attendees, though he arrived toward the end of practice.
Fedora said he held a similar event during his days as the head coach at Southern Miss. When Fedora arrived at UNC, he spoke of the importance of bridging the gap between academics and athletics. After a two-year investigation into impermissible benefits and academic fraud, the NCAA in March 2012 placed the UNC athletic department on probation, cut football scholarships and handed out a one-season postseason ban, which kept the Tar Heels out of the ACC championship game last season.
Since then, questions have been raised about how suspect classes in the Department of Afro- and African-American Studies helped keep UNC athletes eligible over a range of years.
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Fedora has said that one of his goals is to work more closely with the academic side of the university. Which is part of the reason, he said, why professors were invited to practice on Wednesday. Fedora said when he greeted the professors after practice, many of them asked him questions – mostly about football.
“They had a lot of questions – why we were moving from where we were moving,” Fedora said. “Who was on this field, who was on that field, why we play music. Those kinds of questions.
“And then it was just why we’re doing this in the first place – to bridge the gap between academics and athletics that’s on every campus everywhere in the country, and to try to get both sides more involved.”
Fedora said the crowd of professors who came to practice on Wednesday was the largest yet. Kareem Martin, a senior defensive end, said he invited one of his policy professors from a 600-level class. The professor couldn’t make it, though, Martin said.
Even so, Martin said the event allows professors to better understand the players’ daily schedule, and the demands of practice.
“They only know us from the classroom, and I guess what they see on Saturday,” Martin said. “So they don’t see all the hard work that we put in. It’s hard being a student-athlete – all the hours that we put in on the field and the practice fields, and in the classroom and study hall, and all.
“So it gives them a chance to see how hard we really work.”
Fedora said the professors would receive a post-practice tour of the Loudermilk Center, which houses UNC’s athletic academic support department. While professors received that tour, Fedora said the players would shower and then meet their professors for dinner in the team dining hall.
“I think the best part of it is that they actually sit down and they actually talk and communicate,” Fedora said. “They find out about each other, and the player, the kid realizes that the professor is a normal person, and then I think the professor also finds out the kid’s a normal person.”