UNC sets strategic plan for athletics
Finishing in the top 10 nationally in each sport, academically and athletically, while developing a culture of compliance and building a stronger relationship with the university community — those are some of the goals that the North Carolina has set as part of a strategic plan announced Wednesday that will guide the athletic department’s decision-making over the next four years.
“That’s our ambition,” UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in an interview. “I want to set the bar really high and have each unit devise a plan that allows us to get there.”
Cunningham also must do those things while navigating the department through a three-year probation period, the result of an NCAA investigation into the football program that found evidence of players committing academic fraud and accepting impermissible benefits. The probation period began in March, and a month later the school received the first public reprimand issued by the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In May, UNC also announced the results of an internal probe that uncovered 54 suspect classes in African and Afro-American Studies that were heavily populated with athletes, though a further review by former Gov. Jim Martin stated that the courses were not set up specifically for their benefit.
There are more reports to come — the UNC Board of Governors is reviewing the school investigations, and American Association of Universities president Hunter Rawlings will examine the relationship between academics and athletics at UNC.
Cunningham said the idea to create a strategic plan was unrelated to the scandals, though it’s no surprise that the first priority is “alignment,” defined as aligning the department’s operation to fulfill the mission of the university.
The other three priorities are academic achievement, athletic achievement and administrative engagement.
Instead, the plan arose from a staff meeting soon after Cunningham’s arrival in November 2011, when one of the issues raised was the lack of a clear vision for the department. Cunningham appointed a group of executive staff members to start developing a plan, and the process was led Dr. Paul Friga, a professor in UNC’s business school.
“Strategy is critical to an organization’s success,” Friga said in a statement. “Strategic planning sets the stage for moving an organization forward to a new, positive direction.”
Cunningham, who estimates that UNC is in contact with the NCAA an average of once a week, said the plan provides no assurances that mistakes won’t happen, but it does provide a roadmap for acting with responsibility and integrity.
“There’s 1,000 people in this department; we’re going to make mistakes,” Cunningham said. “You just hope that people own up to them when they make them, admit them, correct them and don’t make them again, and then we have stuff in place to minimize them from happening.”
He also said his goals of athletic success, such as winning championships in every sport, won’t be harmed by a commitment to improving the academic profile of incoming athletes.
“I don’t believe you have to pick one or the other,” Cunningham said. “I believe you can do both. I don’t think that’s a finite pool (of recruits who excel academically). Does Stanford exceed the NCAA standards? The general consensus would be yes.”
Stanford has won 18 straight Director’s Cups, which goes to the school with the most successful broad-based athletics program.
Other objectives include balancing athletics and academics in the student-athlete experience, creating the first multi-university coalition to monitor the impact of athletics on a school, seeking leadership roles on collegiate athletics committees and operating in a transparent manner so that the community is informed about decisions made within the department.
“The curse of athletics is it’s really, really popular,” Cunningham said. “We love it on Saturday; we love it when 20,000 people show up. When things don’t go well and people show up and want to know why, you can’t run away and hide. That’s disingenuous.”
Each priority also comes with concrete steps that will allow the department to reach its objectives. Cunningham said the ultimate goal of the strategic plan is to enhance the educational experience for every student on campus.
“They give us a chance to be big and bold and chart a course for the future that is both exciting and rewarding,” Cunningham said.