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Thursday, June 02, 2011

UNC, hold your head high 

Special to the Clarion Content...
Open letter to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fans, alumni, students, faculty, administrators, and staff:
When I moved to North Carolina in 1997, transplanted as it were, with a girlfriend attending UNC Law School, I found out rapidly that as an avid sports fan, it was necessary to choose sides. [Or at least be able to make a good case why you hadn't.]

I grew up in New Jersey. I went to college at Indiana University. Naturally, I chose Duke. Duke is the state university of New Jersey of the South. Coach K was weaned under legendary Indiana Coach Bob Knight.

My UNC friends said, fine, or more accurately, "Whatever!!"

They reminded me, don't forget us. We're special. We're different. We do things the Carolina Way. I respected Carolina, but I didn't really know what they meant. When I arrived in the area the Dean Smith era was ending, I didn't appreciate the concept.

Since I have been here, I have seen the highs and the lows athletically for University of North Carolina as an institution. In football, from the depths of the Carl Torbush era to the heights of Mack Brown's run. In basketball, from the depths of the Guthridge-Doherty transition to the heights of two national championships. Carolina is always in the running for what used to be known as the Sears Cup, which is awarded annually to the university with the most success overall in collegiate athletics. All this warranted respect. And I respected Carolina.

Yet, I never truly understood what was meant by the Carolina Way. I knew the connotation of the Carolina Way was deeper than winning. Sometimes to see things clearly it takes a crisis.

This year, during the heart of a football scandal that enveloped the school, I finally started to get it. The recent counter-example of how a similar football scandal was handled at The Ohio State University this year hammered the point home. The Carolina way meant appreciating the fundamental Nixonian and Judeo-Christian lesson. It is the cover-up, not the crime.

All of us, as humans, are fallible. It is not whether or not we will fail, it what we do after the failure. President Nixon was disgraced and forced to resign his office in shame, not so much for the crime, as for repeatedly lying to the American nation about it. The Judeo-Christian culture and American society are very forgiving of our politicians, athletes, celebrities and frankly, each other. It is a bedrock of who we are. But forthrightness, honesty, a willingness to admit wrongdoing is the key.

Last season, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was embroiled in a football scandal and media maelstrom near as sketchy sounding as the one that has enveloped Ohio State. It was agents, assistant coaches and loose money in Chapel Hill, tattoo, cars and cash for uniforms and access at Ohio State.


In both cases.

But how did these two universities proceed to handle these crises?

The University of North Carolina preemptively suspended twelve football players for the opening game and arguably the biggest game of its regular season against top-tier program LSU. The suspensions included several players who were ultimately cleared by the investigation.

The Ohio State University petitioned the NCAA to allow five players who have been shown to be in the middle of the dirty dealings that the coach knew about at the time to participate in the Sugar Bowl.

The University of North Carolina extended and expanded its review as fully and completely as possible.

The Ohio State University limited the scope of its investigation and prematurely attempted to clear their coach.

The University of North Carolina thoroughly interrogated their football coach, Butch Davis, and ultimately elected to go forward with him.

The Ohio State University initially suspended their football coach, Jim Tressel, two games, a wrist-slap, then a further half-measure, making the suspension five games, before ultimately facing it had to fire him.

The University of North Carolina's Athletic Director Dick Baddour pushed the investigation in an attempt to find and expunge any and all dirt. Compare; Baddour, "it is likely that the review would extend beyond the start of the season...as an institution, we must learn from these mistakes and work with the NCAA and others who love the game of football to repair the environment in which they occurred."

The Ohio State University's Athletic Director Gene Smith gushed over his coach and attempted to quash the investigation. Compare; Smith, "Wherever we end up at the end of the day, Jim Tressel is our football coach. All the speculation about him being terminated is pure speculation. This case, in my view, does not warrant it...He is our coach and we trust him implicitly."

What about the university's respective leadership?

The University of North Carolina's Chancellor Holden Thorpe, in the beginning,
"We will find out what happened. We will do everything we can to keep it from happening again. And we will not let these mistakes define our university and what we stand for."
and in the end,
"We pledged that we would go where the facts took us, that we would find out how this happened, and that we would do everything we could to figure out how to keep it from happening again. In crises like this, it is tempting to come up with a quick fix, but it is almost always better to endure the speculation while the facts are gathered...we have found no information that Coach Davis was involved in any of the problems that surfaced...All along, my chief concern has been protecting the University’s academic integrity..."

The Ohio State University's President Gordon Gee made clear where he stood in the hierarchy when asked in March about firing Tressel, "No, are you kidding? Let me just be very clear: I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

UNC fans, alumni, students and administrators, hold your heads high. The Carolina way really is different, even if it took the Ohio State University for this Duke fan to see it. You should be proud of your distinction. The right way is not synonymous with the easy way. We all do wrong, the measure is in what do we do after we do wrong. The University of North Carolina did not shy from its mistakes and missteps. It plunged in and met the challenge head-on, in the process doing much to secure its deserved reputation as a place of honor.

Keep up the good work. Much respect.

Aaron Mandel
Durham, NC

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