Editors Note: The following is a Guest Column that ran on the Opinion Page of the Asheville Citizen-Times on May 19. It was written by UNC Asheville Board of Trustees member Bruce Peterson.
As a former collegiate athlete, high school coach and athletic director, I have seen firsthand the changing landscape of college sports. We all cringe when we hear some of the negative stories that have been reported the past few years in the media. You have to wonder whether collegiate sports still have value.
I believe they do, but only if athletic programs are carefully monitored to ensure that academic and athletic values are in balance. As a member of the UNC Asheville board of trustees for the past four years and a liaison to the athletic department for the past two, I have had an opportunity to closely observe how that balance has been achieved at Asheville’s university. I am proud to say that although the Bulldog athletic program may have one of the smallest total budgets in NCAA Division I, the program has done athletics the right way by balancing the competitive drive to win with the need for producing student-athletes who are competitive in sports as well as leaders in life — without the scandals and runaway spending. Here are some UNC Asheville athletic highlights:
• More than half of our student-athletes maintained a 3.0 grade point average or above last year at a school known for its rigorous academics.
• Five student-athletes had GPAs of 4.0 in the fall 2012.
• Graduation success rate: 74 percent.
• NCAA Division I Academic Progress Rate: 983/1,000.
• 99 percent of our student-athletes who stay for four years earn their degrees.
• The total Bulldog athletic budget of $5.04 million for the 2012-13 academic year comes from private donations, corporate sponsorship, student fees, ticket revenue and NCAA and conference distributions. UNC Asheville athletics is required to be self-financed and receives no state funds.
• Despite a modest budget, Bulldog athletes have competed in seven postseason NCAA or NIT tournaments in the past 10 years and earned 10 Big South Conference championships in several sports.
• Despite coaching salaries that are modest by comparison, eight Bulldog coaches have been named Big South Conference Coach of the Year over the past 10 years.
Through local purchases and visitor spending, the UNC Asheville athletics department supports 140 local jobs each year (this does not include the department’s own employees), adds $4.3 million in local income and raises local output by $11.7 million.
And here are a few facts about our scholar-athletes.
• Grace Blaylock, a shooting guard on the women’s basketball team, graduated this spring with a degree in health and wellness promotion and a 3.8 GPA. She has been accepted into medical school.
• Bobby Castro, a defensive captain on the Bulldog soccer team, is also an honor roll student with a GPA of 3.85. He plans to be a physician’s assistant.
• Leah Wormack, a power forward/center on the women’s basketball team, is a chemistry major, dean’s list student and has a 3.9 GPA, with plans to be a dental surgeon.
• Our championship men’s basketball team from last year graduated all six of its seniors in four years.
The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics continues to recommend that colleges and universities attempt to balance out-of-control athletics spending trends and ensure that institutions make academic values a priority. Throughout the country, some progress has been made, but it has been slow.
However, as a UNC Asheville trustee who has carefully monitored our athletics department’s priorities, I am convinced that we are achieving that important academic and athletic balance. I believe our athletic and administrative leadership strive to ensure success for our student-athletes in the classroom and on the playing fields. They aspire to have an appropriate level of funding that will reward our coaches as well as our faculty for their work to educate the leaders of our future.
Bruce Peterson is a native of Asheville and attended Lee H. Edwards High School. His educational career includes teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal, and principal of an elementary school, middle school and high school with Asheville City and Buncombe County public schools. He served as a faculty member and football coach at Western Carolina University. He serves on numerous local boards, including the Western Carolina University Athletic Hall of Fame and the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and is chairman of the Western North Carolina Regional Livestock Market Committee.