Former UNC President Bill Friday, long a critic of the increasing monetization of college sports, argued that the root of UNC’s current problems are money in yesterday’s Winston-Salem Journal. That’s not money as in money paid by agents to players, or money as in money possibly paid to recruits by an associate head coach with a long and checkered history, instead, it is money as in a desire to become a big-time program and money as in money spent to upgrade Kenan Stadium to facilitate Tar Heel dreams of becoming a nationally elite program.
“I argued with [UNC's boosters and athletics department about] tearing down the [old] field house,” Friday said. “Why does an academic center require three levels of special seating you buy? That allows privilege to creep in, which had never been allowed before…. Once you let the power of money begin to control decision-making, you’ve lost what you’ve set out to do, which is to create programs equal to every citizen in the state. As for the privilege of beer and wine — if that’s what it takes, we don’t sell the seat. That’s a capitulation to an argument that has no strength at all.”
Stadiums don’t make teams cheat, of course. They do put pressure on coaches and players to win, and all too often a coach incapable of winning under the rules looks to illegal methods to achieve his team’s goals. But instead of blaming crimes on criminals as it were, Friday is quick to blame that old and ready bogey man, “The System.”
“This endless commercialization leads to double admissions standards at institutions and double pay scales at institutions,” Friday said. “The tragedy is that out of the 119 institutions playing major-college sports last year, only five broke even.”
Sounds nice on the surface to sympathetic ears, that everyone is doing it, that it’s money, or in other words, the criminal is the victim.
But the reality is that special stadium facilities, easy courses and large budgets funded by TV money do not truly imply that a team must revert to cheating to succeed. After all, wasn’t a Taj Mahal arena built, haven’t players graduated with Geography degrees and haven’t millions upon millions of dollars been earned by the perennial national champion-caliber UNC basketball program? Or is there something rotten in that particular area in Denmark too — which would be the system’s fault too, of course.
We dare not ask that question, Dr. Friday, but your logic would extend to that program perfectly as well.
The bottom line is that the thrust of Friday’s argument is nothing more than a Red Herring. Instead of coaches, athletes and administrators having a sliver of personal responsibility, it’s “the system?” That comes from complicit or at the least lax oversight, coaches unwilling or unable to comply to NCAA rules and perhaps boosters to fund illicit payments to recruits who let it known that they are for hire when they are picking a college football team. Add in a culture of Mickey Mouse academics to make it look good on the surface and you have a the recipe for a rogue program. And with what’s known to the public so far about what’s going on at UNC, many of those elements have been confirmed to be part and parcel of their business methods.
As for Friday, his adopted alma mater – and make no mistake about it, NC State graduate Bill Friday is a Carolina man through and through - he says “This is one man talking with a lot of sadness in his heart, because I don’t think this is what the university stands for or should want.”
Given the way that the UNC Board of Governors, the Chancellor, the Athletic Director, silent tenured professors (who can speak freely, mind you) and every one in between has circled the wagons and kept silent on the matter whenever possible, that the head coach is still on the job and still recruiting “big-time players,” that players are being given “rolling suspensions” to meet football needs and that the UNC System has not called for an independent investigation to get to the roots of the real problems in Chapel Hill, apparently it is what UNC stands for and wants, Dr. Friday. And that’s what’s really what should make you sad…especially when other programs in the UNC system are doing things the right way.