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Commentary: NCAA bubble soon to burst

Last week, ESPN ran an article about the (purported) erosion of the proverbial Carolina Way. I'm pretty unapologetic in my belief in, and adherence to, the Carolina Way.
The philosophy propounded by Carolina's Dean Smith is effable insofar as the Carolina Way can be defined as and by a team and its players' genuine desire and ability to "[P]lay Hard. Play Smart. [And] Play Together." On the first page of a book written on and about the philosophy, Coach Smith further, but just as simply, defines the Carolina Way as "pursuing excellence with integrity."
Just like Coach John Wooden's Pyramid for Success and his belief that, "[if you] take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves" - and, much like Coach Joe Paterno's "[G]rand Experiment" - the Carolina Way was about building men of great character. Winning was a byproduct of good habits, hard work, and a dedication to giving your all and doing your best, regardless of the task at hand.
ESPN's article suggested that, in recent years, the gestalt of the Carolina Way had been eroded, and had or has transformed; becoming less about a genuineness of substance, and more about a swagger-fueled style - about a bravado born from success, and a desire to win at all costs, as opposed to winning as a byproduct of doing things the right way.
It was suggested that Carolina has lost its way; abandoning its adherence to ideals like integrity; and, adopting lesser tactics - playing down to the level of its ethically empty competition.
The ESPN article pointed to institutional student-athlete academic and eligibility issues that have dirtied the Carolina blue hue that once epitomized the best in, and ideals of, academic and athletic success by and of an NCAA institution.
In April, Carolina commissioned the Rawlings Panel to do a deep dive and to make "recommendations on steps Carolina can take to improve the complex maze of athletics, and provide ideas to other universities that are willing to tackle, what most agree, is a challenging issue for all of higher education."
The Panel released its report in August; basing its findings upon the "fundamental premise that institutions of higher learning exist primarily to teach students and to conduct research; all else, including athletics, is secondary." Though, early in the report's statement on its "Premises for Recommendations" it made the same statement with a slight but glaring revision, stating that "[I]nstitutions of higher learning exist primarily to discover and to disseminate knowledge; winning sporting events is peripheral to those basic missions."
The Rawlings Panel's membership included the President of the Association of American Universities, the Executive Director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the Commissioner of the Big Ten Conference (himself a former Tar Heel basketball player), an Associate Professor and Chair of a Sports Studies Department (at another institution), and a former Associate Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The Report acknowledges that intercollegiate athletics are built on the desire by institutions of higher education to compete against each other and [to] win; noting that "Harvard and Yale presumably rowed against each other in 1852 to see who would win the race."
Embedded almost innocuously within a section of the Report discussing the reasons for and evidence of the misaligned financial priorities of institutions' desires to compete (read "to win") athletically, the Panel states that its "study of the data for Division I institutions indicates that these trends are not sustainable."
If it is real, the erosion of the Carolina Way is, like the boycotts by Grambling State's football players, Maryland's move to the Big Ten Conference, (the perception and/or reality of the corrupt nature of) John Calipari's recruiting tactics, the inclusion of teams from Texas in a conference formerly known as The Big East, the walking caricature that is Johnny Manziel, and the general hypocrisy that is and are the NCAA's rules and decision-making processes, signal the coming of the next bubble that's about to burst.
Like the Internet and housing bubbles before it, the NCAA's bubble is bounding toward bursting. All of its momentum is moving in the wrong direction; doing so at a pace at which a successful, long-term correction before a catastrophic collapse is less than unlikely.
In the ceremony that will take place later this fall, during which President Obama will present Coach Smith with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the President will unquestionably reference the Carolina Way.
Perhaps from that stage, the President, an avid college basketball fan himself, can encourage the much needed effort toward change by, among and between the NCAA, its member institutions, the professional sports leagues, and the decision-makers from and among those entities who can enact such change before the NCAA's bubble bursts.
Matt Laczkowski's column appears every Monday. Reach him at coach@with-character.com.

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