Athletics and Academics On the Same Team

From the University Report (published by the GAA 1970-94)

It appears that it is the season to beat up on intercollegiate athletics. Some of this is a reflection upon the growing importance of money in big-time college athletics. On our own campus, we have been blessed or cursed, depending upon one’s perspective, by our own successes. The most successful fund raising drive in the country for an athletic facility has recently been concluded, resulting in gifts and pledges in excess of $38 million for the construction of the Student Activities Center.

In the last year members of the Educational Foundation (or Rams Club, as it is more commonly known) gave nearly $2 million — for athletic scholarships at the University. The athletic department budget has grown in recent years and now exceeds $9 million. While this is a large sum, it represents only 2 percent of the total budget for the University. No state funds go to support our athletic department. The department’s entire budget comes from outside sources (TV, ticket sales, and gifts).

There has been much comment about how the “excess” revenue raised for the Student Activities Center should be expended. Some believe it should go to the University’s academic needs.

I encourage readers to consider the following:
1) Thirty-eight million dollars in cash and pledges has been raised for the Student Activities Center. Only $25 million is cash in hand. Those with experience in fund raising know that not all pledges are collected.
2) The leaders of the fund drive for the Student Activities Center approached the University in the early ’70s with the same proposal and an $8 million price tag. Their hope was that the drive would be made part of the Carolina Challenge. The University chose at that time to limit the Carolina Challenge to raising funds only for academics. Unfortunately, the Carolina Challenge failed to reach its goal. Many feel that by not including the Student Activities Center in its plans, the University discouraged the participation of a number of alumni and friends of the University, and raised the price tag for the building by 400 percent.
3) UNC basketball Coach Dean Smith and football Coach Dick Crum, along with Chancellor Christopher Fordham and Athletic Director John Swofford, have been leaders nationally in arguing for high standards for student athletes.
4) More than 96 percent of all Carolina athletes on basketball scholarships under Dean Smith have gone on to receive their diplomas, and more than 90 percent of all of those who have come to Carolina on a football scholarship and stayed five years have gone on to receive their diplomas.
5) The Student Activities Center will more than double the seating capacity for Carolina’s home basketball games. More alumni and friends of the University will be exposed to Chapel Hill, the University, and Carolina athletics than has been possible in Carmichael auditorium. The Student Activities Center will be used for much more than our 12-15 home basketball games each season. With conventions and cultural events, the SAC will attract thousands of people from all over North Carolina and the country. This exposure can only accrue to the benefit of the University generally, and more specifically its academic programs.

What is perhaps most distressing about the recent carping is that it reflects too often a lack of appreciation and understanding for the relationship between athletics and academics. Athletics serve to unify the campus and alumni. As Coach Dean Smith is fond of saying, “It is the front porch of the house — the most visible part, but certainly not the most important.” Athletics keep our alumni involved with the University. Many who support athletics are equally generous to the academic needs of the University.

Certainly academicians don’t want a second-rate department anywhere on campus, and yet some seem ta suggest that they want a mediocre athletic program, one that cannot be self-sustaining and, therefore, one which will require that the University fund part of its operations out of private giving to the University. It seems to me unfortunate that despite the high standards set in the athletic department and in the leadership of the University’s administration, some begrudge them their success.

It is my opinion that the Educational Foundation, while not perfect, has done much to bring credit, friends, and funds to the University. Its success in raising money for the athletic program is almost unparalleled. I believe that their leaders have learned much about fund raising that they could share in partnership with other foundations on campus.

At a time when funds for higher education are rapidly diminishing, it ill behooves any of us to point to those who are successful and suggest that they are less deserving. Rather than criticize the Rams Club let us acknowledge that our real frustration is with society generally, which places a higher dollar value on athletic achievements than on the contributions of educators, researchers, and many others whose contributions, though not as visible, may be more enduring than those of an athlete.

Some people believe that had there been no Student Activities Center fund drive those monies would have come to support academic programs, or that athletic tickets, now the purview of the Education Foundation, might better be used to meet academic needs. Certainly the athletic tickets belong to the University. The parking places the SAC adds to the campus belong to the University.

At any time, the University is free to retain these benefits if it is also prepared to assume the full funding for the 26-sport athletic program. I suspect that the reason this has not happened is not because the Rams Club runs the institution, but because the University wisely has concluded that the success that has been enjoyed over the years by the Educational Foundation is something special and not easily replaced.

I believe that we can also take pride in the fact that as alumni we play within the rules. Our enthusiasm, while boundless, has not prompted us to reach into the program to insist on victory at any cost, bringing the kind of embarrassment to our athletic program and our institution that has come to others in recent years. I am enough of an optimist to believe that one can have excellence in academics as well as athletics, but that there must be mutual respect and trust. There must be a sense of equity and fairness. We must stop the fingerpointing and get on with the work. Our responsibilities are immense; our opportunities are great. While not all of us are sports enthusiasts, let us not begrudge sports success. Let us also recognize that at all times the University exists first and foremost to educate, and that education can and does take place in intercollegiate athletics. We should never make a sham out of the term “student athlete.”

Finally, we must realize that we succeed and prosper as an institution when all of our family members are thriving. Athletics and academics both contribute to the team — our University.

Yours at Carolina,

Doug signature




Douglas S. Dibbert ’70