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Town Hall Talking

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The four Triangle-area Division I athletic directors talked pay-for-play, cost of attendance, NCAA restructuring, and special admissions cases among other things at Thursday's 99.9 FM Fan Town Hall. Plus there was a guest appearance by the biggest sports name in the Triangle this year.

The athletic directors of the four Triangle-area Division I schools - Kevin White of Duke, Ingrid Wicker-McCree of NC Central, Debbie Yow of NC State, and Bubba Cunningham of North Carolina - discussed a number of issues facing college athletics at a town hall forum sponsored by 99.9 The Fan on Thursday. You can read a summary of the event here, as well as key quotes from WhiteWicker-McCreeYow, and Cunningham.

Here are some other observations from the event:

  • It was interesting to note each AD's personality. Duke's White comes across as professorial, especially given his frequent references to economic-based terms, calling the current NCAA reform movement a "market correction" and noting prospective student-athletes are "savvy consumers". Wicker-McCree really seemed to have a grasp of the innate differences between her school and the other three represented. It is easy to see why Yow resonates with State fans, saying "Go State" during the microphone check and getting testy with moderator Adam Gold at one point, even calling out the fact that Gold attended Maryland. Cunningham was reserved and measured in his responses, and it seemed clear he has been working closely with the academic side of the house, repeatedly referring to the "academy".
  • Yow was the winner of the eye-rolling gold and silver medals based on her responses to two questions in particular. First, when asked about why schools admit athletes with questionable qualifications for college, she replied "opportunity" and launched into a speech about giving access to students who were not from the middle class. While that's a nice sound bite, everyone knows why questionable athletes are admitted to colleges and it has nothing to do with poverty and social justice. The other eye-rolling moment came in response to a question about why coaches are allowed to move schools freely while athletes have transfer restrictions. Yow replied that coaches are subject to restrictions in the form of buyouts, sometimes going into "five figures". I don't believe a "five-figure" buyout keeps a coach in place; and even if a seven-figure buyout gives a coach pause, it is unlikely the coach is actually the one paying the buyout as the hiring school often foots that bill.
  • Yow did score points, however, in her responses on the idea of pay-for-play. She mentioned that athletes usually receive Federal Pell Grants as part of their financial aid package (which is often turned back to the athlete when their scholarship covers the school costs). If the NCAA were to allow scholarships to include total cost of attendance (meaning expenses beyond what the school charges), then would schools be subsidizing the Pell Grant program? She also pointed out that while a small group of male student-athletes (football and basketball players) provide the revenue that drives all the other sports, Federal legislation like Title IX does not recognize that fact and any effort to pay-for-play would have to overcome that.
  • Yow also noted that student-athletes are very much like other students who have outside jobs and that choices have to be made to fulfill the requirements of playing college sports. White added that Duke had 35 student-athletes majoring in engineering and two who represented their country in the 2012 London Olympics, so college athletics and scholarship are not mutually exclusive.
  • Cunningham pointed out that a school's admissions department ultimately makes the decision on whether or not a prospective athlete gets into school. He added that he had never worked at a school where an athlete was admitted who it wasn't believed had the potential to be successful in college. That caused a bit of eye-rolling among those in attendance as well.
  • The topic of compensating players for use of their likenesses and jersey sales was a hot topic. White pointed out the difficulties of compensating one player (such as through jersey sales) and would a player like a quarterback then share that compensation with his offensive line? Yow and Wicker-McCree, who were both coaches before going into administration, highlighted the inherent troubles in the locker room of compensating some players but not others.
  • White, Yow, and Cunningham were all-in on the idea that college athletes are already compensated through the value of their educational opportunities. White in particular referenced that, at a private school like Duke, the value of the "educational experience" - which he described as the scholarship, tuition, room, board, books, access to academic support, nutrition, and sports medicine/training staff, etc - was upwards of half a million dollars.
  • Wicker-McCree's perspectives were very interesting because clearly NC Central does not share much with Duke, State, and Carolina except geography; however more than 250 Division I institutions have much more in common with Central than with the other three.
  • Perhaps the most surreal moment of the event was when Mary Willingham entered the room. She came in about 5 minutes into the event and left just before it ended so she had no interaction with anyone in the room as there were no questions or comments from the audience.

While it was a very interesting discussion and the 90 minutes passed in a flash, no one ever mentioned the elephant in the room. This was seemingly by design as otherwise the event would have turned into a 90-minute discussion of the troubles at UNC. It was also disappointing that the topics of conversation seemed more pre-selected and while fans were contributing using the designated hashtag, other than a couple of passing references to contributed topics, there was not much fan input, nor were there any questions or contributions taken from those in attendance (probably much to Willingham's chagrin). Still this was an intriguing concept and maybe 99.9 The Fan can refine how it was run and make it a recurring event.