A Better Way?

UNC’s school newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, in particular the editorial staff led by Jenny Surane, has been doing remarkable work since the appearance of the Wainstein report three weeks ago. Today’s front page editorial is their most powerful piece to date. Titled “An Unfair Burden,” it accepts the reality that UNC “is in the business of fielding high-budget, high-revenue sports teams for institutional gain.” The problem, the DTH says, is that the NCAA and its member schools have refused to accept fully the implications of that reality. Instead, it has maintained a “disingenuous attitude toward the status quo that fails student-athletes. It is the unwillingness to fully face up to the obstacles they encounter in their attempts to complete a degree while essentially performing a full-time job and managing their celebrity. And it is the pretense that this is a reasonable demand upon those whose compensation is so compromised that provides incentive for fraud here and elsewhere.”  

The DTH, as others have done before, insists that athletes be allowed to pursue a degree if they wish, but that standing as a full time student not be a required condition of eligibility to play. Many, perhaps the majority of recruited athletes, will wish to pursue a degree and will have the motivation and preparation to do so. But for those who don’t, such concessions both “put[] more power in the hands of student-athletes to determine the terms upon which they are affiliated with this University and live their lives” and precludes the denialism that incentivizes academic fraud.

The DTH acknowledges that any new path forward will be fraught with challenges. There is no perfect solution to the problem of reconciling big time collegiate athletics with the expressly stated missions of institutions of higher education. Significant changes, such as those the DTH proposes, will inescapably yield unintended consequences. Such is the nature of change. But the DTH rightly notes that “today’s collegiate model is not sacrosanct. Its flaws deserve to be considered on balance with those of proposed alternatives. We believe we have more to gain from an honest assessment of the relationship between athlete and university than we have already lost by delaying this conversation for decades.”

 Surane, in a separate piece today, explained the paper’s decision to break with its longstanding editorial support for “amateurism.” That’s also worth reading.

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