Introducing Complete Carolina
College athletics are changing. You know that, and we know that. The NCAA even recognizes it. If there’s one school that embodies this change, and even more so, the reason behind it, it’s The University of North Carolina. It’s been over four years since Marvin Austin’s famous ‘Club Liv’ tweet (which, coincidently, is controversial for another reason too), and the University has undergone a number of changes that have been woefully underreported and underrated (see them here). But we’re the media and we like sensationalism, so it’s easy to understand why the Carolina Commitment may not be as fun as the continued antics of PJ Hairston.
Today, however, the school revealed another step in the continued healing process with their image, their fans and their athletes. It’s called Complete Carolina, and it’s a long overdue idea that other major Division I programs need to take note of.
Starting in the 2015-2016 academic year, former student athletes, who left early in good standing, will be able to return to complete their degree with assistance from the University. This will include financial services “proportional to a student’s athletics aid during initial enrollment as a student-athlete, including tuition, fees, room, board and books.” (goheels.com) Funded completely by the Rams Club, the program will also include enhanced career counseling, academic advising and an “individualized plan to facilitate completion of a degree, to maximize their success on campus.” (goheels.com)
As a Carolina graduate, and a huge Tar Heel sports fan, I think this is great. For all the greed and entitlement that exists on both sides of the aisle in college athletics, this appears to be a good faith effort at putting the value back into the student athlete-university relationship. I’ve always been of the mindset that college athletes take the opportunity they’ve been given for granted. As someone who has worked in college athletics and written numerous papers on the subject, I feel that there’s a huge disconnect in reality versus what the players often say about their experience. If college football players want to be paid, then they should be ready to answer to their girlfriend on the volleyball team when her scholarship gets cut due to funding. And while I know that the money isn’t there to maintain a 27 sport athletic department (the number at Carolina) AND pay the school’s most prominent players (I’m not against sponsorships, or other opportunities per se), I do feel that it’s been too long since the academic side mattered. Let’s be clear, college athletes. MOST students work hard. MOST students don’t have a lot of money. MOST students need a higher degree, or level of development to quality for their dream job. And MOST students traveled a much harder road with fewer scholarship opportunities, less earning potential and with far less celebrity to get where they are. So STOP complaining. But athletes are right about one thing- the academic value just isn’t there anymore and something needs to be done about it.
The University of North Carolina knows this most of all. They’ve seen the African American Studies department come undone due to scandal. Fake classes, questionable advising and the chronic dubious eligibility of certain top athletes have exposed a new side to the long respected ‘Carolina Way.’ Here at the Confidential, we’ve proposed the ‘Professional Athlete Major’ before. While the implementation of that idea, or a similar one, is still necessary to provide athletes with a genuine experience, Complete Carolina is a step in the right direction.
Many North Carolina athletes have come back to complete their degrees. Members of the 2005 Men’s Basketball National Championship team (not named Rashad McCants) are famous for doing this, including Sean May (who graduated in 2009), and Marvin Williams (who has spent 9 summers between professional seasons to ultimately graduate this December). Even PJ Hairston, who at this point is more famous for his antics than his skill, chose to play in the NBA’s Development League, in part, so he could comfortably continue to take online classes. The desire is there. The need is there. And North Carolina just took a huge step towards meeting that need.
There will probably always be schools and guys who game the system. Sadly, that’s a part of human nature that comes out far too often in the sports realm. But there is a legitimate desire out there for college athletes to not just be players, but REAL student athletes. By taking this step today, North Carolina proved that even if its past is not always something to be proud of, that the future can be something to look to for everyone. Because that’s what it’s really all about. Most professional athletes, even the most successful ones, retire after a few years, often broke because they either came out too early and were immature, or they never learned financial management skills. Take a guy like Sidney Rice, who at 27, just retired from the NFL due to concussion concerns. Hopefully, he managed his money well because he has a long life ahead of him. And you also hope that sometime during his career at The University of South Carolina, that he learned something that he can take with him into his world, post-football.
Today, the University of North Carolina took a stand and said that student athletes deserve better. I admire that, and hope that many athletes, and schools take advantage of this opportunity. College athletics are changing, and with more reforms like this, it’s certainly for the better.