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David Glenn Interview: Bubba Cunningham (Full Transcript)

Friday, August 9, 2013 1:40pm
By: David Glenn

Earlier today, we brought you audio from David Glenn's interview with . Now, we present that same interview, but this time, with transcribed questions and quotes:

(Note: Glenn's questions are bolded, while Cunningham's responses are in italics)

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham came on David Glenn's statewide radio show today to discuss a variety of NCAA issues, as well as the P.J. Hairston situation.

Among the topics covered:

The concept of a "Super Division" still under the NCAA umbrella; whether compensation is necessary for student-athletes; whether schools should be required to carry more sports in order to become members of the "Super Division'; Cunningham's concerns about the future of the NCAA; if UNC's academic issues in the past hurt them with the recent P.J. Hairston headlines; an update on P.J. Hairston's situation; Cunningham's connection with new Florida State athletics director Stan Wilcox.

David Glenn: Tell us why you think a new subdivision – under the NCAA umbrella – will get UNC and a lot of schools like UNC closer to their athletic goals?

Bubba Cunningham: Well, there has been a lot of discussion – not only on your radio show, but on talk shows – about some schools at the Division 1-A level that we’ve really separated from a financial standpoint from some of the other schools. You know, there’s 127 schools at that highest level, and half of those are basically in what used to be called the BCS conference, and the other half were not. And when you’re in those leagues, your postseason money – from bowl games – and your regular season money from television contracts is significantly more than the others. So you have more resources, and some of the schools and some of the conferences want to have more flexibility in how you spend those resources. So that’s creating some of the discussion. Now, I don’t think anyone has really solved it, or agreed upon, you know, how you’re going to spend that money that you think you have available for student-athletes.

DG: Most of the discussion that we’ve seen surrounds that stipend – whether it’s a $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 or more - that every scholarship athlete would get. The small, less wealthy schools say that can’t afford it, and that’s why they keep voting against it. How many more layers to that do you even sense being part of the conversation – beyond that stipend itself?

BC: I think there’s quite a few things beyond the stipend, but you’re right. Back in about 2010, so only three years ago – I think it was really when the Pac 12 signed their television contract, and they’ve had a lot of pressure out on the west coast for student-athletes thinking about unionizing. So, I think, in 2010, they signed their deal. In 2011, Mark Emmert put together the group of presidents in Indianapolis, and this miscellaneous expense allowance grew out of a way to support student-athletes, in a better way than we do, currently. That’s where the kind of the genesis of that was created, and then just as you articulated, some of the smaller schools said, ‘No, no, I don’t want to do that; I can’t afford it.’

And I think there were all kinds of Title IX issues. There’s the Pell Grant, where we're talking about the student-athlete opportunity fund, as well, are other ways to deliver money to students of need – as opposed to a blanket miscellaneous expense allowance for anybody that participates in college sports. And so I’m trying to broaden the dialogue, and not just talk about supporting our current student-athletes more than we are today. I’m thinking about trying to increase the number of opportunities for kids to play sports, and to guarantee the education for those that are playing sports.

DG: I think it’s fair to say that the NCAA has been mostly horrendous in the public relations battle. You’re one of the only people that I have seen run up the flagpole for the increased opportunities. If somehow you made membership in this ‘Super Division’ dependent on carrying on more sports – I mean, not only is it the right thing to do, obviously, in the spirit of what the NCAA was created to do – but public relations-wise, for a change, the NCAA actually could on the right side of the argument, if you say one of the reasons you want to do this is that all of these these big, rich – because of football and basketball – schools would to have add sports to benefit athletes that in sports that don’t get nearly as much of the attention.

BC: You’re right. Back in the late 70s – 1978 – is when we created these three divisions within Division I. So you have: 1-A, 1-AA, and 1-AAA. Now we call them FBS, FCS, 1-AAA. At that time, we had a minimum number of sports required to be at the various levels. So if you wanted to be in 1-A – the highest level of competition – you had to have a minimum of 16 sports. On 1-AA, you had to have a minimum of 14 sports, and 1-AAA was 14 sports as well.

In addition, we divided those groups by football scholarships. You had to have 125 scholarships in football, and then you had to have fewer than that – I don’t remember the number – in ‘78 for 1-AA. But the current standards are: 85 scholarships in football, 63 at the 1-AA or FCS level, and zero scholarships at 1-AAA. In addition to that, those number of sports – 16 and 14 – haven’t changed. What we’ve seen since the early 80s is the average number of men’s programs has gone from an average at the Division I level from 10.3 down to today of 8.7. So we’ve actually reduced the number of sports that we’re offering, on average, at the Division I level.

We’ve also done a ten percent cut across the board in scholarships; we did that in 91-92. So we’ve taken the number of opportunities available for men to participate in sports and decreased it. That’s where I was going with that point, which is: we now have a lot more money in the system, we should be creating opportunities, not decreasing opportunities. Now, women have increased the number of opportunities a lot. But I think instead of putting more money into existing sports, we should think about adding sports back, so kids can play the one that they love.

DG: When you see kind of that embarrassing set of circumstances this week, where the NCAA is making the argument about whether they’re really benefitting from former athletes, or current athletes' likenesses, and then you go to a website affiliated with the NCAA...and if you search "Johnny Manziel", his No. 2 pops up. When you see stuff like that, does it make you more nervous as an athletic director, who has to balance the budget, about the future of the NCAA – if the NCAA were to have to go through with a large settlement or lose a jury case next year, based on these Ed O’Bannon-style lawsuits?

BC: Yeah, it does concern me, because it concerns me about these opportunities for people to play sports. We have 28 sports at North Carolina; two of them make more money than they spend, and that funds our other 26 sports. So if there is a complete reallocation of revenue based on what you generate for those who generate it, it’s going to decrease opportunities for somebody. It may or may not happen here, but it has a significant impact on our Olympic sport programs, so that does concern me.

But when Jim Delany was out there talking at the Big Ten media days, he talked about an educational fund. I think that we should have been putting the jersey numbers, and anything that’s identifiable with the student-athlete, into an educational fund, and we should have been guaranteeing education for life. What we’re about is trying to provide education for students that we offer a scholarship to. So it doesn’t matter if you’re 30-years-old, 40-years-old, and you haven’t finished your degree – maybe you’re living in California – you should be able to apply to a fund and we could fund your education and finish at UC-Irvine – if you want to – but guarantee the degree. That’s our promise when you come: that you’ll get an education. I think it should be lifetime, and I think you’ve got the revenue from associated sales that could support it.

DG: What are your main reservations about adopting some sort of system where it’s not the universities, but rather third parties allowing the star athletes in particular to benefit from their own likenesses or their own signature even while they’re in college?

BC: I think that we should look at need-based models ahead of popularity-based models. So because the entire industry is kind of built on trying to create some kind of competitive equity and large opportunity. Now, I know that a lot of people are saying, well, there’s natural advantages, so if people have an opportunity to generate additional income and players can make money, then they should. I really think that’s going to create an even worse competitive balance than we currently have. That’s more like the Major League Baseball model, as opposed to the NFL model. When you allow people to spend what they make and spend it on their best players, you’re only going to get a few teams at the top. Now you could argue that we’re already there; I don’t think we are. I think there’s cycles, and I think other teams will get to the top – particularly in football. But that is the best one I’ve heard so far---is get it out of the colleges and let people make it, but I still go back to the college model. I love the college model, and if there’s a pro model that’ll support football and basketball, it’s unrelated to universities then let the market do it. But I don’t think we should be doing it at the college level.

DG: Is there any reason to believe that coverage of the ongoing academic scandal/investigation at UNC could lead to an athletics issue in the eyes of the NCAA, or is that status quo?

BC: It’s status quo. But we stay in contact with the NCAA on a regular basis and we’ve had multiple reviews, and all of the degrees that have been granted to students at the university – regardless of classes they’ve taken – are great degrees. We’ll continue to provide a great education, so that is not an issue that I’m spending any time on, currently, because I think we’re in great shape.

DG: How do you explain to the common college sports fan that in the almost immediate aftermath of UNC having its first major NCAA trouble in a half-century – almost right after that – a star basketball player – P.J. Hairston – apparently has taken thing in violation of NCAA rules? That kind of blows peoples' minds, just on the commons sense level. What is your answer to something like that?

BC: You know, we’re always disappointed when people make mistakes – student-athletes, coaches, administrators. It is disappointing. Timing is unfortunate, but we also want to be fair to the individual, and say that we expect an awful lot of our student-athletes and we hold people accountable. In this day and age of social media and publicity and things, you really don’t have an opportunity to make a mistake, anonymously. Your mistakes are broadcast, and then you have to be accountable for those issues. And we’re continuing to work through the details, so that we’re fair to the individual, fair to the program, fair to the university. And, particularly, in this case, I have a son who’s here, Roy [Williams] went to school here, he has children that graduated from here, so the reputation of the institution is critically important to all of us, but people do make mistakes. We have people making mistakes right now as I’m speaking, including me.

DG: One of the biggest criticisms of the NCAA is how slow it can be in its investigations. Do you have a sense of the timetable in terms of UNC basketball and when you’ll know the repercussions for P.J. Hairston?

BC: No. No, it is very unpredictable. And you’re right, people – we all get frustrated by how slow things are, but when you’re in the middle of doing work, you continue to do the work until you have it completed. Sometimes it takes longer than you think; sometimes it’s a little quicker than you think. But I don’t have any idea as far as the timetable.

DG: Florida State fans are wondering exactly what they’re getting in one of your ACC colleagues – in his case most recently at Duke, but, like you, also a former Notre Dame guy. Stan Wilcox is the new athletic director at FSU. What are the Seminoles getting in Stan Wilcox?

BC: They’re getting an outstanding individual. Stan is a great leader; he’s a great mentor. He connects very well with student-athletes, with coaches, with faculty. I am delighted for Stan, delighted for Florida State. And the ACC has gotten a great individual that will make our conference better as well, so I couldn’t be more pleased. I look forward to seeing Stan the next time in-person, so I can congratulate him in-person as well.

(Quotes transcribed by: Brian Geisinger)

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