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FILE - In this July 28, 2011, file photo, University of North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp speaks at a news conference in Chapel Hill, N.C. Thorp’s done with big-time college sports, and if he had his way, other school presidents would be finished with them, too. Many leaders just don’t have the training to handle a major athletics program, he argues. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)
Time to take college presidents out of sports?
College sports » Most leaders do not have training to handle major athletics program.
First Published Jun 05 2013 10:12 am • Last Updated Jun 06 2013 12:00 am

Chapel Hill, N.C. • Holden Thorp is packing up after nearly five years as chancellor at the University of North Carolina, preparing for his next job as provost at Washington University in St. Louis.

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It’s no accident he’s leaving a school that regularly plays for national titles at the NCAA’s highest level to one that competes at its lowest.

Thorp’s done with big-time college sports, and if he had his way, other school presidents would be finished with them, too. Many leaders just don’t have the training to handle a major athletics program, he argues.

It’s a message that may resonate with administrators at institutions that have lately felt the sting of scandals tied to athletics.

"I feel great compassion for my colleagues that are getting caught up in this," Thorp said. "My main concern in this, and the reason I’ve been saying what I’ve been saying, is I’m worried about the people who are my friends. But I’m also worried about the institutions that are having their leadership diverted in this way."

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Thorp will resign from his alma mater with its 18,000 undergraduates at the end of June to work at Washington (about 6,000 undergrads) after spending most of the past three years dealing with a withering array of NCAA and athletics-related problems. They dominated his time, despite the fact that — at least when he took the job — he was a novice in the business of athletics.

He’s come to the conclusion that presidents should step aside and let their athletic directors handle the job.

"Either we put the ADs back in charge and hold them accountable if things don’t work," Thorp said in April during a campus forum, "... or let’s be honest and tell everyone when we select [presidents] to run institutions that run big-time sports that athletics is the most important part of their job."

Sports have certainly created enormous problems for several top college administrators.

• Ohio State University president Gordon Gee announced he was retiring Tuesday, after The Associated Press last week published remarks he made mocking Notre Dame, Roman Catholics and the Southeastern Conference during an athletic council meeting in December. Previously, during a 2011 scandal, Gee joked he was worried then-football coach Jim Tressel, who admitted to breaking NCAA rules, would dismiss him.

• Rutgers University president Robert Barchi and the school have faced fierce criticism over the hiring of incoming athletic director Julie Hermann, who was accused of being verbally and emotionally abusive by players on the Tennessee volleyball team she coached in the 1990s. That came after the school fired men’s basketball coach Mike Rice for throwing balls at his players and berating them in practice. In the aftermath of Rice’s ouster, former athletic director Tim Pernetti also resigned.

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