Debris on the ground during a Saturday pregame tailgate event on the Duke in 2008. In 2010, after a 15-year-old girl was found passed out in a portable toilet, the university banned the Saturday Tailgate.
  • File photo by Jeremy M. Lange
  • Debris on the ground during a Saturday pregame tailgate event on the Duke campus in 2008. In 2010, after a 15-year-old girl was found passed out in a portable toilet, the university banned the Saturday Tailgate.

In this week’s print edition of the Independent Weekly, our writers consider different aspects of the deepening controversy around college sports, and in particular, college football. Here on Triangle Offense, we want to supplement the coverage with continued discussion of the issue. What follows is the take of Bob Geary, staff reporter for the Indy. Geary is best known as the Indy‘s veteran political reporter, but he has also followed college and professional sports all his life. —David Fellerath

BOB GEARY: I come at this issue from the standpoint of the young athlete, male or female. At age 18-22, they’re in their prime years to begin and attempt to succeed at a career in professional sports. Some of them are also, even mainly, interested in being students. The problems arise when we professionalize “college” sports to the point that it’s impossible for serious students to take part while at the same time we pretend that terrific athletes who are not good students are nonetheless, cue the marching band, “student-athletes.” In other words, let’s not mix up two things that don’t mix—college sports and professional sports.

I suggest two optional courses of action for UNC, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest and other universities that were once members of the Southern Conference and—or the original ACC. One is to get rid of athletic scholarships completely. Reorganize your sports “programs” so they’re not professional—sorry, Roy Williams, no more paying coaches million$ when faculty get thousand$—and a good student can play football or basketball while also carrying a reasonable academic course load. This, of course, means limited travel, but hey, it’s not that far from Chapel Hill to Raleigh, or Chapel Hill to Clemson, for that matter. But if the team’s going to China or Dubai, Coach K, it ought to be for their intellectual development first.

We can’t stop a corrupt Texas U. from playing a corrupt Auburn U. for professional stakes. But we can step away from the cesspool.

If true amateurism doesn’t suit, then let’s divorce our professional sports teams from our universities and allow non-students, part-time students and any full-time students who think they can manage it to play and be paid for what they are—professional athletes. Or is Harrison Barnes not a professional athlete? And if he’s not, why is Roy Williams getting millions to coach him and the TV networks …? Oh, never mind.

The farce surrounding UNC football is almost completely the result of the greed-driven NCAA declaring that certain activities—like going to parties or having agents—are illegal for “student-athletes” even though they’re completely legal for student-musicians, student-inventors or any other kind of real students.

The NCAA just doesn’t want its “student-athletes” to be compensated for what they are, which is—to repeat—professional athletes. Instead, these young athletes are “paid” with college courses that a lot of them can’t handle and don’t want in the first place; meanwhile, everybody else from Butch Davis to his many, many assistant coaches and everyone else in the “program” who is not actually risking body and brain matter on the football field is hauling down the big bucks.

And you wonder why a splendid young athlete’s paper on African history isn’t up to scholarly snuff? Get real, people. The young man would be playing for a minor-league football team if one existed. But thanks to the NCAA—in collusion with the NFL—there is no minor-league football, only uncompensated “college” football.

I say, pay the young man what he’s worth as an athlete, and he can hire a tutor, or go to school on the side, or when his playing days are done, and learn what a research paper is supposed to be. Obviously, he never learned it in high school.

Bottom line, “college sports,” at least for football and men’s basketball, is a disease corrupting everything it touches, not the least of which is the taxpaying public’s willingness to support higher education. “Whatever happened to the lottery money”—the standard excuse for not wanting to pay taxes for schools—is soon to be joined in the public mind with, “What’d UNC do with all the TV money?”
Let the kids play a sport while they’re in college.

Or let them play a professional sport.

But don’t soil the one with the other.