RALEIGH — One of the problems when it comes to reforming college athletics is the disconnect between the agendas of athletics and academics.
That disconnect was on display recently when a panel convened at the behest of Holden Thorp, the former chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill, and issued a list of recommendations aimed at reform.
Among the recommendations: an end to freshmen eligibility for at-risk student-athletes; a reduction in practice times; spending caps on teams.
To their credit, the panel that came up with these ideas included several members who have ties to college athletics. One, Jim Delaney, is commissioner of the Big Ten Conference.
Still, recent history suggests none of these things are likely to happen, and certainly not through unilateral action at UNC-CH, for the simple reason that they conflict with the athletics agenda of winning games.
To win games and compete with the school down the road, coaches and athletic directors are going to want to accept more athletes incapable of doing college-level work.
To win games and compete with the school down the road, coaches and athletic directors are going to want to allow players to practice more and study less.
To win games and compete with the school down the road, coaches and athletic directors are going to want to spend more money on buildings and recruiting and salaries.
None of that is speculation. That is the history of major college athletics over the last 40 years, and probably longer.
The result is the professionalization of college sports, with student-athletes openly flaunting rules of amateurism and fewer of them having an appreciation for the value of a college education because that is not what they are there for.
To keep the system going, schools like UNC-CH operate bogus classes that keep athletes eligible. The “Carolina Way” becomes the “Everybody-Does-It Way.”
If it is not everybody, to some degree or another, it is a significant number of the universities that field competitive teams in football and men’s basketball. You can’t admit kids to college who read at or below the eighth-grade level and not be committing academic fraud to keep them in school.
The governing body of this morass, the NCAA, won’t touch UNC or other schools for any academic fraud because they know it is the big lie, the thing that could unravel the entire operation.
So while recommendations like those from the UNC panel are unlikely to ever gain traction among college coaches and TV networks riding the college athletics gravy train, even those recommendations represent a nibbling around the edges.
They aren’t going to stem the tide of big-money TV contracts and lip service to silly rules that are unable to bind current millionaires and future millionaires and wanna-be millionaires.
The academic mission of the universities is only going to be protected by minor professional leagues that give athletes an alternative to college.
And isn’t that where all of this is headed anyway, toward more professional sports leagues?
Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist who writes about state government and politics.