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Reform Politics
Stewart Mandel
August 08, 2011
North Carolina's dismissal of Butch Davis followed a sadly familiar pattern
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August 08, 2011

Reform Politics

North Carolina's dismissal of Butch Davis followed a sadly familiar pattern

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Next week some 50 university presidents will attend a two-day NCAA retreat in Indianapolis to discuss reform in college athletics. It's a noble idea, but as we've seen lately, university presidents are all too often inept at reforming their own athletic departments. On July 27, North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp fired football coach Butch Davis just eight days before the start of preseason camp. It's a move he should have made long ago. For 13 months Thorp and athletic director Dick Baddour (who tendered his resignation last week) stood by Davis, even after the NCAA formally accused the school in June of nine major violations—including academic fraud, impermissible benefits to players from agents and unethical conduct by former assistant coach John Blake. In an abrupt about-face following a meeting with the board of trustees, Thorp dismissed the fifth-year coach, saying, "What started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at this university's integrity."

By waiting, Thorp doomed his football program to years of mediocrity. Already facing sanctions, the Heels will now spend a season in limbo under interim coach Everett Withers. His replacement will then have to scramble to salvage a recruiting class. A rebuilding period was inevitable, but it could have begun a year earlier.

Ohio State president Gordon Gee exhibited similarly puzzling reasoning in his handling of Jim Tressel, initially suspended for just two games in March because of a major unethical conduct violation. Asked whether he'd considered firing the revered coach, Gee infamously replied, "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me." On May 30, after fresh allegations of potential NCAA violations, the school reversed course and forced the coach's resignation.

Only after a barrage of bad press did Thorp and Gee seem to grasp the severity of their programs' NCAA violations. So wouldn't you know, they are two of the invited attendees next week who will purportedly champion NCAA reform.

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