College sports problems prompt resignation of Holden Thorp, Chancellor of UNC

By Aaron Beard

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, June 5 2013 1:15 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 21, 2012 file photo, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp heads back to his office after his remarks at the South Building 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.

The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy, File) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press

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.

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."

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.

— At the University of Miami, president Donna Shalala has spent nearly two years dealing with an NCAA investigation of allegations that booster Nevin Shapiro provided thousands of dollars in improper benefits to Hurricanes athletes. She's publicly criticized the NCAA's probe, saying the school had been "wronged" and that the programs have "suffered enough" through self-imposed sanctions.

— And, at Penn State University, former president Graham Spanier faces charges of perjury and concealing child sex abuse allegations involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky in a scandal that ended the long tenure of Joe Paterno and led to unprecedented sanctions from the NCAA.

Murray Sperber, a critic of commercialization in college sports, wonders why presidents don't stumble more often when it comes to overseeing a realm that is often foreign to them. Most come from the academic side and make their way through the administrative ranks that exist as separate worlds from athletics on a college campus, he said.

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