UNC seeks change by putting all the pressure on players instead of professors

Students hold up a poster of UNC chancellor Holden Thorp last week at a rally on campus. (Getty Images)

If you thought the University of North Carolina would put the onus on itself and its faculty for the recent smear against its academic reputation, you'd be wrong. Which probably qualifies you for an "A" in many UNC courses.

Instead of taking a taxing and especially long look in the mirror at itself and the men and women actually on the payroll, UNC has alternatively decided to immediately attempt to make over its reputation by raising the admissions bar for its athletes even higher.

There has been a lot of damage control needed in Chapel Hill for the past few months. On Wednesday, we discovered what UNC plans to do. Namely, hold its teenagers and young-20s students who happen to play sports to a higher degree of responsibility.

Forget the adults, the professors who -- allegedly -- enabled this kind of behavior. The ones who could've constructed ghost classes, handed out ghost grades and ran wings of departments while the facade benefited not only players but regular students, too. Forget looking at the guts of the system and working that out. Forget fighting the tenured ones with power, because who wants to get in that foxhole? The answer going forward must be to pin all the pressure on the players.

UNC's indicating its belief that it can only get better by re-evaluating who it lets onto its campus by way of the registrar's office as opposed to human resources.

The News & Observer:

Among the coming changes: tougher admissions requirements for athletes. [UNC chancellor Holden] Thorp also said in an interview with News & Observer reporters and editors that faculty members will have more oversight of classes that athletes take once they are on campus.

The chancellor said the changes coming to Chapel Hill will be “national news” when they are captured in a report expected to be released in the spring.

“Academics are going to have to come first,” Thorp said. “And it’s clear that they haven’t to the extent that they should.”

OK. Hold up.

You're telling me professors are going to be wielding even more power? As if the transgressions from the past 10 years -- maybe more -- at UNC fell on the shoulders and were catalyzed through the minds of just the students?

So, who's lording over the six-figure help? And, because academics haven't come first in recent times, this is the fault of the physical freak trying to angle his way to a professional career in sports? Pardon the obvious tone I've taken here ... but where's the accountability for the adults? Perhaps deeper in the story. Yes, let us go on.

Among the biggest changes would be tougher admission standards, including limits on instances where athletes are granted exceptions to normal UNC-Chapel Hill standards in order to be admitted.

In the past five years, 53 football players have been admitted to UNC-Chapel Hill under that process, according to university records.

The university could not immediately say Wednesday how many basketball players were also admissions exceptions, citing rules that prevent revealing a player’s identity. Admissions officials said providing the number of basketball exceptions could reveal player identities because each year’s class size of basketball recruits is relatively small.

Thorp said exceptions will go down as a result of the reform efforts.


Thorp also acknowledged that he had not been diligent on athletics issues as chancellor, describing a culture of “trust” in others who had betrayed him.

“I’ve made my share of mistakes as chancellor,” he said. “Looking back, I can say there are things I wish I had done differently. I felt at the time, and I feel now, that the big decisions I made were the right decisions. But I wish I had been more questioning. I wish I’d asked for information sooner, and that I’d looked at things more deeply and critically. The next nine months, I will do these things.”

Read that as: fringe athletes won't be sneaking into Chapel Hill anymore. And from the looks of it, the admissions process for football and basketball players had become fairly lax since the turn of the century. (If you don't think so, ask yourself just how carefully crafted this academic makeover has been handled and discussed for months now, then realize Thorp willingly put out there that its two moneymakers had been coasting on cozy relationships with university personnel and wielding power to bend rules in order to clear players onto the campus. Trust me, it's considered a huge liability, reputedly.)

Thorp, who is stepping down from his position at the end of the school year (despite pleas from his Board of Trustees, and others on campus, not to), is doing his best to make this his legacy. Won't happen, at least not nationally. The damage has been done, no matter the character behind closed doors that Thorp has proven to others. In fact, Thorp told the News & Observer that this decision to up the requirements at UNC weighed into his choice to leave.

This is also UNC getting ahead of the curve for 2016, when the NCAA will up its admission requirements across the board. As it stands now, the university is already well above what the admissions floor for athletes will be; this is an attempt to make UNC a place known for its tough academic requirements. It is an overhaul on who gets in. It's an indictment on the players when the players carry little of the blame. It's easy and stupid to shame the kids, most of whom have gone on to become adults by now.

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his seventh season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics and... Full Bio

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