Opinion

Football can improve UNCC's field position

From remarks made to UNCC trustees by Chancellor Phil Dubois:

For me, this is not just a question about whether we will play football in 2012. For me, this should be a question of where UNC Charlotte wants to be 20 years after 2012. This is a long-term question of institutional strategy. Can football contribute to strengthening the reputation of UNC Charlotte, first regionally and then nationally? And can football contribute to strengthening the “ownership” of the Charlotte community of this institution over the long term, thereby creating secondary benefits for our university ?

I believe that it can.

I understand and respect those who would argue that the best way to build the reputation of an institution of higher learning is to invest solely in its academic enterprise. But I believe that such a formula has worked for a relatively few well-endowed private institutions and not the vast majority of public institutions, and particularly not for relatively young public urban institutions.

Within North Carolina, does anyone doubt that the excellent institutional and academic reputations enjoyed by Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Duke have been strengthened by the prestige of their athletic programs?

As for “ownership,” we don't need to go too far back in local experience to see how athletic success in either football or basketball readily translates into community support. Appalachian State knocks off Michigan and everyone in North Carolina owns App State. Davidson advances in the NCAA tournament and Davidson is North Carolina's team.

But when has Charlotte really “owned” UNC Charlotte? Be truthful, and you'll probably admit it was our run to the 1977 Final Four.

I think I should be clear that I am not recommending football for any of the reasons that are often advanced for having it. I do not endorse football because I believe that it will significantly affect the number, quality, or diversity of the students we recruit. We have plenty of outstanding new students coming to our doors and our projections indicate that we will continue to attract them in ever-increasing numbers, with or without football. Secondly, I do not endorse football because I believe that it will result in significant private donations to the University, at least in the near term. There is nothing in our institutional history or in our alumni profile that suggests that our coffers will be filled by gridiron gold.

I do believe that football will enrich the student experience here, enliven school spirit, and serve as one more bond of engagement between the students and their university. All of the research we know relating to the factors positively affecting student retention and graduation suggests that student engagement is a key ingredient in helping a student persist to achieve his or her academic degree.

So, although I endorse football principally for its contribution to our long-term strategic institutional goals, it is certainly good to know that it may assist us in the achievement of one of our more immediate near-term goals of improving retention and graduation rates.

Moreover, clearly, to be the university we want to be in 20 years, we have to act now.

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