My Spin

Within the past month, two university football coaches in North Carolina have been fired. They didn’t win enough games, and high-dollar supporters demanded that they be replaced.

One could feel sorry for the coaches if their salaries weren’t greater than anyone else’s on campus. The new UNC coach will reportedly get $1.8 million per year; that’s more than the governor or most corporate execs make. It’s also a commentary on what we value today.

The hypocrisy in college athletics is overwhelming. Sadly, our universities have lost control of athletics, and some of them don’t even seem to know it.

Coaches require 10-year contracts, because recruits want assurance that they’ll have the same coach the whole time they’re in school. But wait a minute — aren’t more and more athletes opting to go pro after only one or two seasons?

Meanwhile, the new UNC coach will get hefty bonuses just for sticking around for the duration of the contract. This is a classic Catch-22. If a coach wins enough games, we want to keep him or her, so we pay bonuses for not bailing. But if the coach doesn’t win enough games, we want to get rid of him or her — in which case we have to buy out the contract we signed, which awards bonuses merely for showing up.

Big dollars dominate football and basketball, the money sports. Whatever time or day a television network wants the game to be played is a fait accompli, however inconvenient for the fans. Multimillion-dollar apparel contracts and TV payouts feed the cancerous growth of what were once genteel pastimes.

But sane observers of this process, such as former UNC President William Friday, are tilting at windmills when they caution us about the “arms race” taking place in college athletics today. Friday scoffs at the chairman of the UNC board of trustees who said, “The marketplace is telling us what to do.”

Does this same “marketplace” also demand that professors whose undergraduate students receive Rhodes scholarships get rewarded for their efforts? Is it ready, willing and able to compensate universities that excel in educating our children? Will it similarly reward elected officials who are outstanding public servants and “fire” those who aren’t?

Friday wonders how far our public universities are willing to go in order to win. Are they engaged in the business of education or entertainment?

Right now, the answers to these questions are all too obvious. But these concerns deserve serious contemplation and debate as we seek to determine the future of our universities.

[Tom Campbell, a former assistant state treasurer, is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of issues affecting North Carolina. The show airs Sundays at 6 a.m. on WLOS-TV. Contact Campbell at www.ncspin.com.]

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