Big Time Sports & Big Time Universities

The Dean Dome Sunday afternoon was not jammed packed for fall graduation the way it was on Saturday night for a face off between UNC TarHeels basketball team and first ranked Kentucky.  But it was festive and powerful.   Parents cheered their graduates.  In fact so much so that they stopped the Chancellor in her tracks, as she was about to say something meaningful to her fist graduating class since she was installed as Chancellor.

Carol Folt proved she knows an audience.  She looked at one section that was in high cheer mode and urged them to match the sound of the Dean Dome the night before when big time sports gripped the building with a sound that deafened and pleased.  The parents and families complied and joined in a round of athletic like enthusiasm and noise.  Then the quiet descended and the Chancellor left the graduates with words that matched the solemnity of their accomplishment.

I was moved by the graduation speech by Carolina’s Kevin Guskiewicz , a professor who has taken the role of a scholar and reminded us why a researcher can have such power in everyday life.  Guskiewicz, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Exercise and Sport Science and senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, and whose son is a  Pee Wee football player explained his work and the trouble it can cause.  Guskiewicz has worried about concussions from sports injuries. His work focuses on helmets that can protect brains of athletes. At first the NFL found his work threatening.  Now his studies are changing NFL practice.  That’s research with impact. 

I sat behind Guskiewicz  and I marveled at how lucky I am to be part of higher education at a great research university where students can graduate planning to change the world and where professors already have.

I marveled because I had so enjoyed being part of the University community the night before when big time sports exploded in the same Dean Dome. I am a graduate of a small women’s Catholic College where great teachers prepared us for a world which would greet us with No as women, but who challenged us to say Yes.  I didn’t know from scholars like Guskiewicz or from big time sports.

Scandal, investigations, problems, and questions are troubling college sports of late and I know there are many on campus who think big time sports and scholarship cannot co-exit.  I don’t’ understand all the nuances and complexities of sports and know that money can challenge the ideals of scholar athletes.   But if you read this wonderful article on that Saturday night game, you may feel like I did the power, the emotion, and the fun of a great university‘s big time sports followed by big time education. It’s called the Loudest Ever:

Universities are laboratories of change and imperfect human institutions.  As a dean, I live that every day.  But this weekend I found the power and excitement of being at a place where competition is the coin of the realm and so is achievement.





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