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An unpromising start for UNC investigation

From Edwin M. Yoder Jr., UNC Chapel Hill Class of 1956 and a Pulitzer Prize winner in editorial writing in 1979. Yoder wrote this to the Daily Tar Heel:

It would be encouraging to think that the appointment of an expensive Washington legal eagle might bring “closure” (the chancellor’s term) to the athletic scandals. But the terms set for this inquest seem distinctly unpromising. The Daily Tar Heel has quoted the University Provost to the effect that “as of now the University has limited information as to how (the Kenneth Wainstein investigation) will work.”

One is reminded in one respect of the Watergate scandal of the 1970s. Initially dismissed by President Richard Nixon’s public relations man as a “third-rate burglary,” the break-in at the Watergate was revealed by stages as a stab at the heart of the constitutional system, the symptom of something more sinister.

Responsible UNC officials have sought for months to minimize the scandals as a peripheral problem within a single department. In fact, the heart of the matter is obviously the exploitation of “student athletes,” a substantial number of whom are rumored to be academically unqualified. Prestigious universities, including UNC, continue to serve television, jeopardizing the well-being of young men for the pleasure of spectacles having little to do with learning — and less, these days, with sportsmanship or the development of character.

One university cannot take on this entrenched system (and the NCAA) alone. But UNC has an unwelcome advantage, embarrassing as it is, of basking in the glare of the national spotlight. UNC would seem bound by opportunity and a sense of its own honor to lead the way to reform. With the heritage of Bill Friday as its beacon, the way is clear; only the will is lacking.

We will see whether Mr. Wainstein is bound by his terms of reference to another mere swat at the symptoms of big-time college sports. At the cost disclosed, that would hardly be a bargain. The corrupt edifice of college athletics is a far more challenging subject for a Washington lawyer than a few phony courses.

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