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“At its best, athletics is a good front porch for a university,” said Jack Evans in a presentation at Carolina Meadows on the often controversial relationship between athletics and academics. Evans, who has held numerous roles in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA,) the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC,) and at the Kennan Flagler School of Business at UNC Chapel Hill, focused on the NCAA, explaining its structure, role, and challenges.

Although there are three divisions to the NCAA, Evans confined his remarks to Division I, comprised of some 330 institutions, the “major leagues” of college sports. Those schools are organized into 31 conferences, including the ACC, to which UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, and NC State belong. Each institution and each conference clings to its independence and has its priorities, making it extremely difficult to change any of the rules that govern sports.

Some of the issues with which the NCAA deals are: the rules governing the recruitment of athletes, academic requirements, and avoiding injuries. Each issue has its thorny aspects. For example, there is concern that raising academic requirements might adversely impact minority group students who make up a large proportion of the “big money sports,” football and men’s basketball.

Despite the large sums of money involved, few athletic programs break even. UNC-Chapel Hill, which has an annual athletic budget of $70M, by careful management, is able to break even. Many institutions, Evans said, have to decide whether to spend money on sports or academics.

In the Q & A after the presentation, it was asked why sports were needed at all. Why not focus on what the university is all about – education. Evans was of the opinion that intercollegiate athletics serves several purposes that enhance the overall effectiveness of an institution. UNC, for example, attracts 10,000 out-of-state student applicants a year for the 700 openings available. He speculated that much of this interest was generated by the national attention gained through sports. Also, he felt that academic philanthropy is not hurt by the fact that so many donors contribute to the athletic programs.

Jack Evans presentation was part of the Carolina Meadows University Speakers series.

By Bill Powers

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