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Reforming Athletics Pushed UNC’s Thorp to Resign

Big changes are coming to the University of North Carolina when it comes to how athletes are admitted and the classes they take:

Among the coming changes: tougher admissions requirements for athletes. [UNC Chancellor Holden] Thorp also said in an interview with News & Observer reporters and editors that faculty members will have more oversight of classes that athletes take once they are on campus. The chancellor said the changes coming to Chapel Hill will be “national news” when they are captured in a report expected to be released in the spring.

Those tougher admissions standards will include fewer special admissions exceptions for athletes as well as possibly adopting the NCAA’s increased initial eligibility standards ahead of their 2016 effective date. Hopefully UNC does not use the NCAA’s new standards to deny admission, but rather uses them like the NCAA intended and requires athletes who do not meet them to redshirt their first year.

At a university like UNC, one the Public Ivies who is suffering from a major blow to their reputation after NCAA violations and academic scandal, you would think this type of reform would be easy. Not so:

Thorp said bringing about change that ensures “academics first” will be so difficult that it was a factor in his decision, announced last week, to resign as chancellor in June and return to the faculty.

It says a lot about the challenge of reforming athletics that even at UNC, it must be the one of the last things a president or chancellor will do. You need the equivalent of a second term president who does not need to face reelection to get it done. The problem is that lasting reform requires buy-in from top to bottom, which is much easier when the leader who pushes for reform is the same leader who ensures it is carried out.

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