UNC group examines recruitment process of student-athletes

Jan. 24, 2014 @ 07:52 PM

The 10-member UNC Student-Athlete Academic Initiatives Working Group on Friday discussed proactive ways to balance athletic competitiveness with high academic standards.

Professors, administrators and athletics staff touched upon educating middle-school-aged athletes on the importance of getting a degree, working with middle and high-school coaches on academic leadership and enhancing conversations with UNC admissions about student recruits.

The group has met since September to revamp 22 pinpointed stages of university interaction with student-athletes, from recruitment to post-graduation.

Having already discussed admissions and advising at past meetings, the working group talked over the university’s recruitment methods on Friday.

The meeting comes after a UNC reading-level controversy was made public this month, when university employee Mary Willingham released data that stated some former UNC football and basketball players couldn’t read or write, or read above an eighth-grade level.

Provost James Dean Jr. said the advisory group hopes to create a comprehensive description of UNC’s student-athlete support processes by the end of the academic year. They are about one-third of the way through analyzing the steps associated with 28 sports teams.

Last fall, the university started ranking student-athlete recruits based on their high school classes, grade point average, test scores and class rankings. The new system determines how likely they are to succeed academically at UNC.

The student-athletes can be assigned to level three, which states the student is capable of making a 2.6 GPA or above at the university. Level two is between a 2.3 and 2.6 GPA, and level one, where they start turning people away, is below a 2.3 GPA.

This year’s freshmen student-athletes are the first to be recruited using this new system.

Every year, UNC eyes about 350 recruits, but that number is whittled down to 150 when recruits decide to attend another college or UNC decides the student isn’t a good fit.

At the meeting, UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance said the university regularly competes with Stanford University when it comes to recruiting top collegiate soccer talent.

Dorrance said when UNC starts talking with these students, they ask for transcripts and get to know their academic backgrounds, which they then pass on to UNC compliance officers for evaluation.

Group members asked what would happen if UNC increased its academic standards for new recruits.

“If we have one, we’re going to cripple the other, so we have to sort out how to balance that, because I would love to be able to continue to compete,” Dorrance said.

If UNC is forced to have admissions criteria that rivals Stanford’s, UNC won’t win the recruitment battles, he added. UNC has only won 6 out of 35 recruitment battles with Stanford.

UNC Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said a proposed change to National Collegiate Athletic Association standards would have increased the number of core course requirements that student-athletes would have to meet starting in 2016, from 14 to 16 classes, but the regulation change was tabled on the national level.

“That would raise the floor for everybody, not just us,” Cunningham said.

When asked about the reading-level scandal, he added, “I think the provost and the chancellor did a wonderful job defending the students who are here. ... We really work hard to attract students who represent the university well, and I really think they do a terrific job.”

Provost Dean asked how the university could potentially weigh a recruit’s “grit,” or their drive to succeed academically at UNC.

Assistant men’s basketball coach C.B. McGrath said it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes they recruit students who’ve had great test scores and grades in high school, but get to UNC and struggle their freshman year. Men’s basketball coach Roy Williams lets the player’s family know that the university expects academic success, McGrath said.

Dean said the university must take on additional responsibility to stress the importance of a degree to student-athletes, even if they have dreams of pursuing a pro athlete career.

The average pro football or basketball player spends only four years in the NFL or NBA, the working group said.

“A lot of people, when they leave pro athletics, don’t do very well financially,” Dean said.

“Even once they get the brass ring ... their lives don’t turn out as wonderfully as they would like.”

UNC strategy and entrepreneurship professor James Johnson Jr. said UNC has to teach students how to surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. That education should start in middle school, he said, and middle and high-school coaches also should be taught the importance of academic leadership.

“These are the people who you can trust and who you can work with instead of listening to your posse,” Johnson said.

In other news, Willingham sent a letter this week to President Barack Obama, praising him for his efforts to increase higher ed access to students but also asking him to boycott the NCAA March Madness brackets.

In the letter, Willingham said the NCAA “promotes educational inequality because the overwhelming majority of our profit sport athletes, men’s basketball and football players, are not getting a real education. Many of these fine young men enter our institutions woefully underprepared and leave without a degree or a real college education.”

Willingham also said in the letter that these athletes are exploited for their abilities, and while the nation suffers from a literacy crisis, “African American males are bearing the brunt of our failures.”