Friday, April 19, 2013

UNC's Holden Thorp: Athletic administrators - not presidents - should run athletics

Holden Thorp won't be the chancellor at North Carolina for long. He's leaving on June 30 to become the provost at Washington University in St. Louis. Thorp's imminent departure is one of the reasons why he has become outspoken against the idea - a flawed idea, according to him - that university presidents and chancellors should be responsible for running college athletics.

That's not to say that Thorp wants to absolve chancellors and presidents from the responsibilities related to athletics. But he believes athletic department matters are best left to the athletic department, and he'd like to chancellors and presidents to have a much less visible role when it comes to leading athletics and the myriad issues that surround them at places like UNC and other universities with high-profile athletic programs.

Thorp said some of this during an interview with News & Observer's Jane Stancill, who wrote a story today that touched on Thorp's reluctance to play a large role in leading athletics. And Thorp was even more outspoken earlier today during a panel discussion that UNC hosted about the role of athletics in college life. Given all the problems in recent years at UNC related to athletics and academics, Thorp convened a five-person panel to explore some of this.

Hunter Rawlings, the president of the Association of American Universities, is the chairman of the panel. It also includes Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and Amy Perko, the executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Here's Thorp, in his own words, about his experience working with athletics at the major-college level, and what role university chancellors and presidents should have in athletic leadership ...

"Most of us were working in the lab or library, teaching, publishing, until we moved into administrative jobs where we did things like ran tenure, start new degree programs and work on accreditation. ... And then one day I woke up and Roy Williams, Anson Dorrance, Sylvia Hatchell, Mike Fox and so many other great coaches were all working for me."

"And after five years and all that I've been through, I know enough to run college sports now. But I think we can all agree that it wasn't exactly a smooth road to enlightenment. And I certainly didn't know enough to run college sports five years ago. The search committee asked me one question about it."

"(Chancellors and presidents) don't have time to do what is asked of us by this presidential control idea ... We go to conference or NCAA meetings to discuss new rules and when we get home, our ADs tell us we were crazy to agree to these changes. And they're usually right."

"The presidential retreat that Mark Emmert had was a good idea, but it has a lousy record in terms of coming up with ideas that were ultimately approved by the membership. This is because presidents are fighting political battles, fundraising, dealing with the hospital and trying to help the governing boards understand the inner-workings of higher education."

"People ask me all the time why I didn't let the AD do more of the public relations during the problems that we have had at North Carolina. This is what most good public relations consultants will tell you to do. And the answer is that the governing boards and this concept of presidential control didn't give me much of a choice. Every time I appeared to discuss athletics at a board meeting, which in North Carolina is always with the media there, was at the request of the board had specifically wanted me to come talk to them. That's not their fault. This presidential control idea has created the impression that the president or chancellor should be the one to speak to the governing boards about athletics."

"The third problem is that making the president or chancellor the only academic administrator accountable for athletics allows the rest administration to check out. Oh, that's the chancellor's problem."

"Many of the governing boards include at least some, but by no means all, people who sought the appointment precisely so that they could get close to athletics. So we have a bunch of college professors working for boards that have a lot of sports fans. And we wonder why it isn't working.

"The upshot of it is that college presidents are capable of doing really smart things. And usually get most crises handled well. But a sports crisis reduces really smart people into people who appear inept and sound incapable. The reason is that there's no place to hide."

"You have the sports fans going crazy if they don't get their players in the game, and media and much of the faculty expecting, because of this presidential control idea, that the president or chancellor can wave a wand and somehow make it all go away."

"A very smart sports person told me that the best you can hope for is a tie. So that's what people play for. This concept of playing for a tie is a very good way of understanding why our controversy at North Carolina went on for such a long time."

"I'm saying a lot more today than I would say if I wasn't going to Division III to be a provost. My successor will be here soon. But hopefully, my saying these things will make it easier for her."

"You hear all the time that the presidents of the universities have the power to fix this. I don't agree. We can't fix the NCAA or the conferences, because we have to get a huge number of our colleagues to agree with us at the same time. And we can't fix our own situations because the alumni and the governing boards want their victories, and they want the agony of disagreement over college athletics to end as soon as possible. So to me that leaves us with two choices. Either we put the ADs back in charge, and hold them accountable when things don't work ... Or, let's be honest, and tell everyone when we select them to run institutions that have big-time sports that athletics is the most important part of the job."

"I'm not saying (my office) isn't where the buck should stop. I'm saying we have taken on this aura that says that presidential control is this magical thing that pervades college sports. And we need to be more realistic about what powers we do and don't have. And part of that is our own fault, because we insist on governing conferences and governing the NCAA - and it's just not as simple as that."

"I'm not talking about changing the reporting structure. I'm just saying that we need to develop this thing that says if something goes wrong in athletics, it's an athletics problem - just the same way we would about other things that go wrong in the university, or go right."

"Ideally it'd be like all the other functions. You'd have the people reporting to you, telling you what's going on and you'd make the decisions you'd need to make and it would become a function of the university just like the hospital and the endowment and the academic parts - student affairs and all those things. It wouldn't create this giant pressure every time you had to do something."

"And of course there were lots of things that I could have done differently that would have made it a little better. But in terms of whether I really had the power to fix all the things that people thought I could, I decided I really didn't have that."

- Andrew Carter


Anonymous said...

I think we already know who runs the store over in Chapel Hill. His name is Roy and nobody, I mean nobody, interferes with him. If he wants an illiterate superstar, he gets him!

College athletics has become a joke.

Anonymous said...

Thorp didn't do his job and it CAUSED this whole scandal. When he was Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Athletic Tutoring program reported directly to him.

If he hadn't been asleep at the switch, this wouldn't have happened. His promotion to Chancellor was a travesty and he'll eventually screw up the little Div III school he's heading to now.

The first thing someone who is incompetent says when they get fired is "That shouldn't have been my responsibility".