Since UNC-Chapel Hill athletic director Dick Baddour announced Coach John Bunting’s termination and that he would continue to coach the remaining five games, plenty has appeared in the press about the coach and his fine qualities.
It has been said that he builds character, recruits young men who want a college education and also play football, loves his alma mater, and accepts accountability for his decisions. People have also praised him for his work ethic and the work ethic he instills in his players to excel in the classroom and on the football field.
Another source lauded him for how well he represents the school, the community, his family and himself. His team’s graduation rate has also been cited as one that many coaches wished that they could achieve.
If Coach Bunting’s players have learned that their actions have consequences and infractions will get a star benched, or even dismissed from the team, then they are way ahead of some programs. A team that enforces rules irrespective of how many yards you ran, touchdowns you threw, tackles you made, or passes you caught sounds like a program a university would be proud to call their own.
So what’s the problem? The official answer appears to be that the team under Coach Bunting’s leadership is victory challenged — a 25-43 record overall and an ACC record of 16-29 as of the Wake Forrest game. So what’s more important, being a builder of character, integrity, and academic success or Ws and Ls?
Obviously, its Ws and Ls. I understand that when a reporter asked Coach Bunting about coaching five more games after being terminated, he responded that the show must go on. The follow-up question should have been which show?
I can’t pinpoint when Division 1A football became the show that it has, but it’s clear that the show we are really talking about is business, bottom line business, pure and simple. Successful programs carry the entire athletic budget, garner large amounts of fan and alumni dollars, bring in logo sales, and attract students and faculty because of what the revenue stream allows them to do. Revenues from TV and bowl games add to the bottom line of not just the institutions, but their conferences too. Simply put, there’s real pressure to win.
When Douglass MacArthur was the superintendent at West Point in the early part of the 20th century, he provided a pretty credible raison d’etra for competitive athletics. He said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days and other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” He liked the words so much that he had them engraved over the entrance to the gymnasium.
Why? He knew the value of competition and what team sports could contribute. But MacArthur lived in another era. As Coach Bunting, his staff and his players have learned, there is the business beast that must be fed and satiated. Simply put, the game is no longer just about having fun, developing character, or instilling the values needed to be a success in life; these are nice extras. Those schools that still pursue those old-fashioned goals know that they play in a different league and on a different field. After all, how many pro prospects will they attract?
There are studies, scholarly papers, and written testimonies that reach high into the sky reporting faculty dissatisfaction with the role of revenue sports on today’s campuses. The Knight Commission recommended in the strongest terms that there be greater presidential control over college athletics and that the programs reconnect with the university’s fundamental mission.
Some continue to see high profile college athletics as a sham. Teams have players who just happen to be enrolled in the institution. . Academics aren’t the priority, getting the skills and notice to play for big bucks at the next level is. After all, success is contagious and successful teams help schools successfully get those dollars. Sadly, at some places it’s a pretty simple dichotomy, athletes who are enrolled at the school versus students who play sports.
Some also decry the different admissions process for an athlete and the course of study an athlete may take as a scholarship student. To the credit of UNC-Chapel Hill, these are not their problems; remember their problem is too few victories. So we get a new coach.
Will a new coach have all of the qualities of a Bunting and the ability to mold a victorious team? I and many other fans sure hope so. But it’s important to win on all levels. The show will go on as the new coach struggles to keep the right Ws to Ls ratio and demonstrate those other critical ingredients for a successful program — ingredients that the Coach Bunting show seemed to possess in spades.
Being able to succeed off and on the field will be a very good thing!