The prosecution of a sports agent and a tutor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is unlikely to have a significant impact on the big-money world of college athletics, especially in states such as Texas, Ohio and Florida. But it serves two important purposes – one close to home and the other on a more philosophical plane.
Close to home, the investigations and prosecutions of key figures in the UNC-Chapel Hill athletics scandal are important steps in the restoration of UNC’s reputation as one of the finest academic institutions in the country.
That, unfortunately, is long overdue. University officials dragged their feet and stonewalled for far too long when the first hint of the scandal came to light. Instead of confronting front-and-center allegations of gifts and cash for star football players, the university let the wound continue to bleed. Then-coach Butch Davis held onto his job for an unreasonable amount of time, even as newspaper reporters heaped allegation after allegation at UNC’s feet.
A third-party investigation by former Gov. Jim Martin failed to satisfy critics, who pointed out that key administrators weren’t interviewed and too many questions were left unasked. As Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall pursues his case against suspects in the scandal, perhaps, at last, UNC will rid itself of the bad eggs, and the school’s status as flagship university will be a point of pride once again.
In a broader, more philosophical setting, perhaps Woodall’s prosecution will bring to the forefront, at last, a national discussion about today’s student athletes. Are the NCAA’s rules governing what they can accept and what they can’t too rigorous? Should they be paid? Should the realities of 2013 force an overhaul of our expectations of schools that stand to make huge sums of money off the talents of amateur athletes?
Woodall has a tough road before him, but so do the rest of us. The sooner we begin navigating this complicated world, the better for schools, administrators and, most of all, the athletes themselves.