UNC faces reputation repair after football scandal
Posted October 14, 2010
Chapel Hill, N.C. — The University of North Carolina has five fewer men on the roster this season as a result of the ongoing investigation into allegations of agent and academic improprieties. Tailback Ryan Houston was cleared Thursday, but four other players remained sidelined and under scrutiny.
Head coach Butch Davis doesn’t know what, if any, sanctions face his program, but he said other schools that have gone through the process could offer a hint.
“You can certainly look and draw conclusions from Southern Cal, Alabama or any of the other institutions, whether it's in football, basketball or any of the other sports and kind of get a general idea," he said.
He could also look to the other major universities in the Triangle for an idea of the price the scandal will exact on the school’s reputation. Each has learned from a recent experience in crisis management.
Duke University dealt with the fallout from accusations of rape against the lacrosse team in 2006. North Carolina State University saw several high profile resignations in 2009 when the details of the hiring of former first lady Mary Easley became public.
Both universities faced a tough situation that appeared to get worse with each new revelation, said Rick French, chairman and CEO at French/West/Vaughan, a public relations firm with offices in Raleigh, New York and Tampa, Fla.
“The most painful execution is one that comes slowly,” French said.
French believes universities often move too slowly to acknowledge mistakes.
“They don't tend to handle these situations particularly well. They don't get out ahead of the problem.”
French, who advised NFL quarterback Michael Vick during his dog fighting case and Bret Favre about allegations that he sent inappropriate photos to a New York Jets employee, said, “It's pretty simple. Tell the truth.”
Holden Thorp, chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill, had to bite that bullet on Aug. 27. He opened a news conference about the allegations of academic infractions on the football team by saying, “To everyone who loves UNC, I'm sorry for what I'm about to say.”
As UNC leaders urge patience, French argues allowing information to trickle out only fuels negative stories.
“If you go easy on yourself and then it continues to come out, it's a death by a thousand cuts,” French said.
He added that UNC should cut down on self-congratulations.
Dick Baddour, director of athletics, said at that same news conference, “I just feel good about the academic support program.”
UNC President Erskine Bowles has said, “There's nobody prouder of the job we've done since we discovered this.”
“When you say, ‘Look at us. Look at what a good job we're doing managing this crisis.’ The question is, how did you allow the crisis to get to that point in the first place,” French asked.
Until the full story is told, UNC will keep taking hits. Then, reputation repair can begin.
A UNC spokeswoman said Thursday that Thorp and Baddour have been consistently accessible to the media despite constraints because of student privacy laws and the NCAA's decision not to release information.
UNC leaders argue they've done everything possible to get information to the public.