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Welch Suggs Jr., a former associate director for the Knight Commission, said the problem is more about determining the role of college athletics than a question of whether the presidential-control model is flawed.
"If it’s to be a big-time American spectacle, like the NFL or Major League Baseball, then no way," said Suggs, now an associate professor of journalism at the University of Georgia. "It makes absolutely no sense for academic leaders to be in charge of it. But if you want it to be a part of higher education and a function of the collegiate experience, someone has to make sure people in athletics know they’re part of the educational process and not just a commercial business."
Thorp certainly understands the difficulty finding that balance.
In his first two years, he thought athletics "was the least of my worries" after the Tar Heels men’s basketball, women’s soccer and field hockey teams each won national championships.
Everything changed when the NCAA launched an investigation into improper benefits in the football program in the 2010. That soon expanded to academic misconduct involving a university tutor, then got worse with findings of fraud and no-show classes in an academic department with significant athlete enrollments.
At the height of the scrutiny, Thorp said the problems regularly dominated his time and diverted his focus from running the school.
And, now, after he’s probably had enough experience to handle college sports and all its problems, he’s eager for to step away from it.
As for the Knight Commission, Thorp said the two sides will agree to disagree.
"We don’t have a commission that tells us not to trust the dean of medicine to run the hospital, but we do have a commission that tells us not to trust the ADs to run athletics," he said. "It doesn’t make any sense."
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