Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yes, Us....The Real Issue Behind the UNC Mess

My wonderfully loyal, fellow Carolina alumni still don't get the real issue about the mess in Chapel Hill. The real issue is not about football or the integrity of the University. Unfortunately, lots of people throw around the phrase, “integrity of the University,” like it’s a dollar tip, but they couldn’t tell you how it connects to reality. The real issue is the perceived integrity of the University.

The reality is that The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is and will continue to be one of the greatest universities in the United States and, by extension, the world. Unfortunately, in today’s society we make too few decisions based on reality and too many on perception.

At Carolina a small but outrageously visible corner of the University, sports, specifically football, has acted in a manner that has created a perception that the integrity of the University should be questioned.

Donna Shalala, president of The University of Miami, has said, “Sports is the front porch of the university.” The message sports conveys about a university may or may not be true, but the power of media coverage spreads the message like a virus. And there could not be a better example than The University of Miami. In the late ‘80s Miami football players were seen as thugs. When they played Notre Dame the game was billed as “Convicts Vs Catholics.” The university’s academic reputation was less than stellar. In a few years, Butch Davis, of all people, cleaned up the program and President Shalala made decisions that changed the academic community’s perception of UM. Were there already football players of good character and great talent at Miami, yes. Were there already outstanding academicians, absolutely. The perception, though, was that Miami was a second-class university and program even though it won national football championships.

Again, university integrity is directly connected to what people believe about Carolina. We have always believed that Carolina, and the people who comprise our Carolina family, was about outstanding character, quality and achievement. Research that came from Carolina was credible and a degree from UNC-Chapel Hill was a door-opener.

Seeing bad news on the front page or in lead stories on television every day creates the perception that the value of the product that comes from Chapel Hill is less than what it really is. Now, I’m not a media hater. In fact, my degree from Carolina was in media and I have worked in, or peripherally in, the media for the majority of my career. But, if the media believes they can sell one more paper or get one more eyeball on a TV or computer screen they’ll keep this mess running. That’s why firing Butch Davis was imperative whether he had anything to do with all this or not and why Dick Baddour had no choice but to step down. I’m not necessarily a Holden Thorp fan but if the media keeps tracking him on this issue he’ll have to go, too. Firing people means fewer headlines down the road and that stops the financial bleeding.

And yes, it’s all about money. The longer this mess is in the forefront of the public’s mind the more it costs the University. To put it simply, Carolina, and everything that comes with it, is like a stock. If you do not believe the management of a company is effective or that the product won’t do what it is promoted to do you don’t invest or buy. The silliness in Chapel Hill will affect fan paraphernalia purchases (t-shirts, etc.), alumni giving, Ram’s Club memberships and other areas.

The most expensive cost will come for our young graduates. Some of my young friends, college seniors last year, told me that the first question recruiters often asked in job interviews was, “So, what’s the deal with the football program?” Whether the question and the ensuing discussion mattered is not the point. The point is that there should not have been a reason to ask a question that diverted the recruiter’s attention in a negative way. Now some recruiters will wonder, “Is this kid a plagiarizer?”The perception of the value of a Carolina degree has been tarnished. Recruiters and graduates will tell you that they know, intellectually, that there is no connection between football and a degree and in reality they are right. But, the perception…….

My Carolina brothers and sisters say, “We’ll get through this!” And we will. But, it will take years. The repercussions of the sloppy ending of Mack Brown’s tenure at Carolina are still being felt and he’s been gone for over a decade.

Here’s the saddest part for me, and maybe for you; as much as I have loved being in Kenan Stadium on crisp, clear, Carolina Blue sky Saturdays in the fall that experience has been diminished. The reality of the day will still be there but the perception of it all has lessened.

And no matter how big a smile you put on, no matter how loudly you shout your support for the University and the Tar Heels, deep in your heart you know I’m right. When you are in front of friends, family, co-workers, pinheaded Duke and State fans, and others you’re holding to the party line. But, in private, when you pull the covers to your chin and think about all Carolina means to you you probably think the same three words that keep quietly echoing in my mind…Please, Not Us.

The reality is…Yes. Us.

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