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The Football Program Isn't the Only Thing on Thorp's Plate

Two bits of news out of UNC today got me thinking of the role of the chancellor in college athletics. The first was the announcement that Thorp had selected a twelve-member search committee to select the next athletic director. The committee consists of three athletes (Eric Montross, Alan Caldwell, and field hockey coach Karen Shelton) , one member of the athletic department, four members of the faculty or administration (including Jan Boxill, director of the Parr Center for Ethics), four current or former trustees (one of whom I already counted under faculty) and the vice chair of the Rams Club. It's a group weighted towards making sure there are no further ethics problems with the department going forward, and I can't really say I have a problem with the selections.

The second news is more embarrassing: an undisclosed number of Rams Club members (referred to in the letter as "investors" which strikes me as odd for university donors) have filed a public records request related to Chancellor Thorp's firing of Butch Davis nine days before practice began. They want Thorp's phone records, minutes and notes from the Board of Trustees meeting, anything about possible self-imposed sanctions, and correspondence about last week's violation with regards to Drew Davis. 

It's the last bit that makes me think this lawsuit is less about aggrieved alumni upset at being solicited for donations under, and more about embarrassing Thorp. It's one thing if they just wanted evidence that Butch Davis was always going to be fired, and he was kept merely to bilk the alumni donors. Throwing in the Drew Davis material makes it look like they really want anything they can get their hands on to oust the chancellor. It's not to different from the Fire Thorp people; just instead of a billboard, they're going with a lawsuit. And to be honest, I have no idea how many people are involved beyond the five lawyers. Only one is giving interviews, and the lawyers, though based in five different cities, have worked together before. (Note to copy-editors and other English majors: you don't want to click on that link. There are crimes against apostrophes.)

There's a fair amount of rage being directed at Chancellor Thorp right now, which makes me wonder exactly how much of his attention people think should have been focused on the football program in the first place. For an athletic director, it's an easy question. Football is the primary revenue generator for the department, and once word came down there were improprieties and the NCAA was investigating, well, I wouldn't be surprised if no other sport in the program got more than five minutes of Baddour's time in the last twelve months. 

But I think people are overestimating the importance of the football program, even during this nightmare, in the health of the university overall. Going into this, I never thought the chancellor should spend all that much time on athletics, in comparison with the time devoted to academics, facilities, and state government funding. The last of which has been brutally cut, of late. The disaster the football program has brought upon itself has changed that, but I think people are looking for conspiracies where inexperience is a much more likely explanation. 

Oh well. We have a committee to find the next athletic director, and yet another public relations nightmare. And possibly a billboard that says, "We Still Have More Money Than Sense, Even In Today's Economy." So there's that.