Rawlings Panel Makes 28 Recommendations on Athletics' Role in Campus Life

A panel of national leaders in higher education and athletics has completed a UNC-commissioned report with 28 recommendations about the role of athletics in campus life. Many of the panel’s suggestions touch on finding a better balance between academics and athletics. They also have broad implications for the national higher education community.

The report, released today, is posted online.

The panel, chaired by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, was asked to make recommendations for UNC and to provide ideas for other universities in addressing a challenging issue for all of higher education. Then-Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 appointed the panel earlier this year in response to a 2012 faculty report. The panel convened a roundtable discussion on campus in April.

As president of the AAU, Rawlings leads a nonprofit organization of 62 leading research universities, including UNC, in the U.S. and Canada. A former university president and student-athlete, Rawlings is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Joining Rawlings on the panel were:

  • James Delany ’70, longtime commissioner of the Big Ten Conference and a former NCAA enforcement officer. Delany also holds a law degree from Carolina, where he was a tri-captain on the men’s basketball team. He currently serves on the GAA Board of Directors.
  • Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and previously an NCAA employee and athletics administrator at the University of Kansas. She earned academic honors as a Wake Forest student-athlete.
  • Bob Malekoff, associate professor and sport studies chair at Guilford College and a former athletics director and coach. He has written about athletics and sports management.
  • Patricia Timmons-Goodson ’76, former associate justice of the N.C. Supreme Court who holds two UNC degrees and served on the N.C. Court of Appeals. She serves on Guilford College’s board of trustees and is a past member of the GAA Board of Directors.

Several recommendations in the Rawlings panel report focused on admissions. The University’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions considers every candidate comprehensively and holistically, using the quantitative and qualitative indicators recommended by the panel. The admissions office has the final decision-making authority for all candidates for undergraduate admission, including those recruited as student-athletes. A faculty subcommittee assesses whether exceptionally talented candidates, including artists, athletes and musicians, have the will and capacity to succeed academically at Carolina. The admissions office will report on the most recent cohort of first-year student-athletes later this month when the University finalizes first semester enrollment data.

Delany noted there is a “need for bright lines to delineate the responsibility and authority so institutional control can be established and maintained.”

The panel report also recommended a consortium of peer universities to look at issues facing intercollegiate athletics. Rawlings noted that UNC “is in an unusually good position to call for reforms,” based on its tradition for strong academic and athletics programs. The University’s problems, he said, are relatively recent, and its more fundamental qualities – providing quality faculty, respected research programs and a high-quality student body – put UNC in a good position to lead in this area.

Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham observed that athletics already is actively partnering with several organizations to examine the role of college athletics in society. The athletics department is in the planning stages of a program with UNC’s department of exercise and sports science for faculty to research the impact that athletics has on college campuses. Athletics also is partnering with another major university and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s educational outreach division, TruSport, to develop a multiyear summit that will look at the many complex issues involving ethics and sport.

“There is tremendous value in working together with other schools and other organizations to sit down on a regular basis and discuss best practices and new models that will help all of us achieve what is our number one priority – to better serve the young men and women in our care and to help them develop and mature into the best students, athletes and citizens possible,” Cunningham said.

“We thank Dr. Rawlings and a highly accomplished panel for the time they took to consider not only how Carolina, but how all other universities can ensure excellence in athletics and academics,” Chancellor Carol Folt said. “Carolina will always take advantage of the opportunity to lead.”

The panel’s recommendations are:

1. Insure that the chancellor, subject to the general oversight of the governing board, system administration, or both, has ultimate authority, responsibility and accountability for the administration of intercollegiate athletics, and state in writing any exceptions to this authority, responsibility and accountability.

2. Insure that the chancellor has delegated authority, responsibility and accountability for the administration of the athletics department to the athletics director and state any exceptions to that delegation.

3. Clarify the role and responsibility of any other institutional officer or board or committee that has responsibility for issues relating to intercollegiate athletics or that plays an advisory role in intercollegiate athletics. Faculty committees, in particular, should have clearly-defined charges, roles and responsibilities.

4. Establish procedures to insure that those with authority and responsibility to govern the athletics programs of the institution are able to do so without improper influence from others within or outside the institution.

5. The UNC Board of Trustees has a fiduciary duty to oversee all University financial activities. This oversight responsibility is delegated to the chancellor. Insure that the chancellor or her designee serves on the Educational Foundation’s (Rams Club) executive board and has the opportunity to review and endorse the organization’s annual budget and any proposed major funding initiatives. We note that at times members of the Board of Trustees have simultaneously served on the Educational Foundation Executive Board. While there may be valid reason for dual appointments of this nature, there is also potential for a conflict of interest or at least the appearance of such a conflict. UNC trustees simultaneously serving on these boards must hold their fiduciary responsibility to the university as primary.

6. Insure that the unit that provides academic support services for student/athletes operates without any undue influence by athletics officials and staff, including coaching staff.

7. Insure that the unit that enforces compliance with the rules and regulations of the institution, conference and/or NCAA has sufficient independence from athletics staff to meet its responsibilities properly.

8. Insure that the admissions process for student/athletes is essentially the same as that for other applicants with special talents; that the same office that admits other undergraduate applicants to the institution also has final decision-making authority for the admission of student/athletes; and that all communications regarding prospective student-athletes between the athletics department staff and the admissions office are routed through the athletics director or his/her designee(s). Assure that, in the final analysis, one individual or office is responsible for the admission of student-athletes.

9. Insure that student/athletes are subject to general disciplinary rules and codes of conduct applicable to other students at the institution, including the same procedures and sanctions; assure as well that all athletics department policies are applicable specifically to all student-athletes and that all communications regarding student-athletes between athletics department staff and student disciplinary staff are routed through the athletics director or his/her designee(s).

10. Establish standards and expectations relating to the medical services provided student-athletes that specify, at a minimum, that coaches a) have no hiring or other supervisory role with regard to medical or athletic training staff who work with their own teams, and b) may not attempt to influence any member of the medical or athletic training staff regarding the medical treatment of a student-athlete.

11. Establish an annual internal audit and an external audit every four years to test adherence to these measures.

12. Provide a method for staff to report to an external party (e.g., institutional legal counsel or institutional compliance officer) if delegations are compromised by individuals attempting to exercise undue influence contrary to documents of delegation intended to protect institutional control of intercollegiate athletics.

13. UNC should revise the athletics department budget report to clearly delineate the spending that supports student/athletes’ educational, professional or career development (e.g., scholarships costs, summer school, career counseling, cost of attendance or other educational expenses not covered by a scholarship) as compared with other operating costs (staff salaries, recruiting, team travel).

14. UNC should make institutional financial data more transparent to the public by publishing NCAA financial reports; the athletics department budget, which may differ from the NCAA reports (because of the items listed in the previous recommendation); and additional financial data about long-term athletics debt and rates of change in athletics and academic spending.

15. UNC should commit to maintaining responsible spending patterns, regardless of whether or not a different national regulatory approach is adopted.

16. UNC should also consider taking a leadership position within the ACC, a specially selected network of peers, and the NCAA to promote broader changes to the financial model for Division I college sports.

17. Conferences and/or the NCAA can establish spending caps on specific sports for all team operating expenses. Case law has not addressed a total cap on team operating expenses, but legal experts believe the preservation of athletics programs would serve as a pro-competitive justification for such a measure.

18. The NCAA and conferences can explore ways to expand college athletes’ educational benefits. Current NCAA rules allow universities to provide financial aid to athletes returning to school to complete their undergraduate degree; however, institutions are not permitted to provide additional aid beyond the completion of the undergraduate degree unless the athlete has eligibility remaining. Rule changes that allow universities to provide financial assistance to former scholarship athletes for graduate or continuing education should be considered. Funds for this additional aid could be drawn from athletically generated revenues.

19. As recommended by the Knight Commission, conferences and/or the NCAA can create financial incentives based on athletic-to-academic spending ratios to discourage excessive spending on athletics and/or spending growth rates for athletics that are disproportionate with rates of change for academics. Such concepts can serve to more closely align the athletics enterprise to the academic enterprise.

20. Also as recommended by the Knight Commission, the revenue distribution formulas for the FBS College Football Playoff and NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament can be revised to insure that educational and developmental outcomes are valued and that athletics success is not overemphasized.

21. UNC should develop a formal consortium of like-minded universities with similar academic standards that will enable discussion of creative solutions to the problems and risks posed by intercollegiate athletics.

22. UNC should insure that the quantitative academic performance of “special admits” in athletics is representative of the performance of “special admits” in other categories of admission.

23. Qualitative assessments of “at-risk” prospective athletes should be conducted by admissions officials during the recruitment process.

24. As stated in the recommendation for a framework for protecting institutional integrity, the final decision-making authority for the admission of student-athletes must reside with the academic and admissions officials who make decisions for all other students.

25. UNC should consider requiring a “year of readiness” for student/athletes admitted under the “special admissions” category, and consider advocating for this reform nationally. During this year, these students would be ineligible to participate in varsity competition (though they would retain four years of athletic eligibility) and would have limited practice participation.

26. In the interest of further improving academic outcomes for all students participating on intercollegiate teams, UNC should consider reducing the number of hours student/athletes devote to sports activities, both locally and on conference/national levels.

27. UNC and/or the Atlantic Coast Conference should develop a mandatory education program for coaches. Ideally such a program would serve as a national model.

28. Within the first 12 months of its administration, UNC’s executive leadership (chancellor, provost, legal counsel and other senior administration with athletics oversight) should seek advice from senior leadership at selected peer institutions concerning their oversight responsibilities for college athletics. This information sharing could be done independently or as part of the recommended relationship with a “network of peers.”

In the past year, the University has launched several initiatives to strengthen the academic experience for its nearly 800 students who are athletes. Those include “Carolina Leads,” a strategic plan that is a roadmap for all aspects of Carolina athletics, including academics as well as the department’s alignment with the University, competition, finances, community service, and the hiring and training of coaches, administrators and support staff.

Those initiatives also include the creation of the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group led by Provost James W. Dean Jr. and Cunningham; the hiring of Michelle Brown to direct the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes; and an increased role for the Faculty Athletics Committee.

The Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes now reports directly to the provost, the University’s chief academic officer.

Dean and Cunningham created the working group, announced last month, to examine current practices, procedures, polices and other factors that affect the lives of athletes.

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