Sep 022014


Posted: Aug 29, 2014
By Josh Birch


The countdown is on for ECU’s home opening game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

With the game also comes a big boost to the local economy.

“The impact is terrific. You look around the city on a home game weekend, the hotels are full, the restaurants are full, retail outlets are full,” said Andrew Schmidt, the interim director of the Greenville-Pitt County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Schmidt says they will see about $4 to $5 million spent in the county on game day weekends.

Some of that money is spent at area hotels.

“It definitely does bring in a lot of overnight rooms,” said Brett Morgan, one of the managers at the City Hotel & Bistro. “Also the restaurant and the bar stays busy and definitely have a lot of additional revenue in those departments as well.”

The City Hotel & Bistro hosts the visiting football teams coming to Greenville to play the Pirates. They’re one of the many hotels in Greenville who are completely booked.

That leaves some Pirate fans looking elsewhere to stay. One of those locations is Washington.

“When people stay in Washington one time because they couldn’t get a hotel in Greenville, they come back time and again because they realize they’re getting away from the East Carolina traffic, they’re getting away from a crowded university town,” said Lynn Wingate, Washington’s Tourism Development Director.

With so many visitors coming to the area, Pirate home games are shaping up as win for everyone.

“If you’re a resident here, you want to see this because the healthier and busier the area is, the healthier the economy is going to be, and that’s going to benefit all of us,” said Schmidt.

Sep 022014


By Jane Stancill

August 31, 2014

CHAPEL HILL — Tar Heels in search of the easy A, beware. Starting this fall, UNC-Chapel Hill transcripts will provide a little truth in grading.

From now on, transcripts for university graduates will contain a healthy dose of context.

Next to a student’s grade, the record will include the median grade of classmates, the percentile range and the number of students in the class section. Another new measure, alongside the grade point average, is the schedule point average. A snapshot average grade for a student’s mix of courses, the SPA is akin to a sports team’s strength of schedule.

The nuanced transcripts will provide more information for graduate schools and employers, who should be better able to judge the difference between good and excellent performance. An A- in psychology might not look so swell when the average grade in the class is an A. On the other hand, an A- in physics looks downright impressive if the class average is a C+.

The new contextual transcript is the university’s response to grade inflation – the long-term trend of rising grades that began in the 1960s and accelerated in the 1980s.

Grade inflation has been well documented nationally, most recently in a 2012 study published in Teachers College Record, an academic journal at Columbia University. Researchers collected grade data for 135 U.S. colleges and universities, representing 1.5 million students. They found that A’s are now the most commonly awarded grade – 43 percent of all grades. Failure is almost unheard of, with D’s and F’s making up less than 10 percent of all college grades.

The study found that grade inflation has been most pronounced at elite private universities, trailed by public flagship campuses and then less selective schools. Grading tends to be higher in humanities courses, followed by social sciences. The lowest grades tend to occur in the science, math and engineering disciplines.

Andrew Perrin, a sociology professor at UNC-CH, said the system provides a perverse incentive for students to seek courses not because of intellectual interests or career aspirations, but to pad their GPAs. Popular sites such as Rate My Professors include a measure of “easiness” for each faculty member.

Anything less than an A is unacceptable for some students.

“Elite universities, both elite state universities like ours or elite private universities, face a particular challenge, which is that everybody here is used to being the best,” Perrin said. “And in many cases, they’re used to complaining if they’re not the best.”

Challenge the students

Perrin has long been involved in UNC-CH’s debate about grade inflation and helped push for the transcript policy.

While some argue that students today are smarter than they used to be, national surveys show that college students spend fewer hours studying and pursuing academics.

“I think our responsibility is to push them as far as they can be pushed,” Perrin said. “If they’re that much better, then we ought to be raising the bar, not saying, ‘Well, they’re so much better than they were in 1970, so let’s give them all A’s.’ ”

Student views are mixed on the new transcripts. In interviews last week, most were unaware of the change.

“If you graduate from here and aren’t going to graduate school, who’s going to see your transcript?” asked Sean Peterson, a sophomore from Hebron, CT.

Alex Kacvinsky, a sophomore pre-med student from Cary, approves of the new transcripts. Last semester, he made a B+ in a biology class, which would look even better next to the class average, which was a C-.

“I personally would like it if my transcript had more context,” Kacvinsky said.

But Will Weidman, a senior from Charlotte, sees a downside. He said the new system could add to the competitive climate on campus.

“It’s going to add more stress to people’s lives,” he said. “People here are already stressed out.”

Few schools try

There has been no organized student opposition to the new transcripts. In the past, though, students have fought efforts to shift grading policies.

In 2007, the Faculty Council narrowly defeated a proposal for an “Achievement Index,” a statistical measure that would have taken into account course difficulty and grading variations. Student government opposed the plan, and 800 students signed a petition against it.

Still, there was a growing consensus that something needed to be done. A 2009 study showed that the average grade at UNC-CH had climbed to a 3.2 in 2008, and 82 percent of all grades were A’s and B’s. Researchers also noted that there was systematic grade inequality among different departments and instructors.

By 2010, the Faculty Council agreed that a contextual transcript was a reasonable approach. The details of the policy were approved in 2011, but implementation was delayed while university administrators made sure they had the right measures and software to carry out the project.

As part of the plan, professors are given access to internal reports that reveal their own grading history compared to others in their department and across the university.

That alone could change grading habits, said Perrin, whose average grade given is a B-.

However, he added, “My biggest worry about this policy is that it doesn’t go far enough, that it’s not going to be good enough to actually make a dent in the problem that we face.”

UNC-CH will be among a small group of U.S. universities that offer context to students’ grades.

Indiana University used to do it, but stopped because of a software change. Dartmouth College and Cornell University include median grades on transcripts. Cornell used to publish the information online, but quit in 2011 after a study revealed that enrollment spiked in classes with a median grade of A.

But there is a larger move to transcripts with broader information about students’ learning outcomes, said Brad Myers, Ohio State University registrar and president of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

“We’re really trying to say, ‘Here’s what the student has mastered, and isn’t that what you’re after, more than whether the student got a B or a C or a D in this class?’ ”

Princeton University made headlines for a 2004 policy that sought to limit A’s to 35 percent in undergraduate courses – seen as a radical approach to regulate grades. Earlier this month, a faculty committee there recommended dropping the policy, saying it was too stressful for students and was misinterpreted as a quota system.

The Princeton policy worked, said Stuart Rojstaczer, a former Duke University professor who for years has analyzed grade inflation nationally. It was rare in an era when students are treated as customers – high-paying customers.

Rojstaczer, who remembers a student sobbing in his office over a B-, said UNC-CH’s new transcript probably won’t stem the upward creep of grades.

“It’s a soft response to a problem,” Rojstaczer said, “but it’s probably as good as you can expect in the current academic environment.”

Sep 022014


August 30, 2014

More than a year ago, five women filed federal complaints against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for its handling and reporting of sexual assaults. Now, at long last and after formation of a 22-member task force, the university has responded in a good way.

A new policy puts more order into the handling of sexual misconduct issues, from sexual assault to gender discrimination to harassment and stalking. Bold points in the new policy include: Victims can go through a regular adjudication process or choose mediation, in which case there would be no confrontational hearing; if the accuser chooses adjudication, a university investigator, trained in the field, would review the facts and issue a finding, which could be appealed; no students will sit on a hearing panel to review accusations; consent will be defined as more than just a failure to say “no.”

UNC-CH’s action comes as universities around the country are trying to deal with issues of sexual harassment and assault on campuses. Some schools have been accused of not taking such claims seriously, perhaps writing them off to alcohol or poor decisions on the part of young people. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a leader in pressuring universities to do a more thorough job with sexual misconduct accusations, noted that a survey of 350 schools showed that 41 percent hadn’t had a single investigation of a sexual assault in the past five years.

UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt was involved in two meetings at the White House, where the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault has focused on the issue. Folt says UNC-CH’s action follows the recommendations of that task force and federal policy.

Chapel Hill lawyer Henry Clay Turner has represented several people who reported sexual assaults and sees some positives here. But he says one flaw is that accusers don’t have enough rights in the appeals process, and he is skeptical about the ability of university officials to conduct “professional or prompt investigations.” He adds “So we’re giving them additional responsibility and an added adjudication responsibility.” University officials would be wise to be open to modifications in the policy after consulting with lawyers who have represented accusers.

Running a university always has been like steering a battleship. It is difficult to make change, even when change obviously is needed. And universities have in the past been wary of dealing with sexual assault and harassment issues because they are complicated and a university worries about legal exposure.

But UNC-Chapel Hill has done something here that is a responsible action and long-needed.

Sep 022014


By Anne Blythe

September 2, 2014

CHAPEL HILL — Sophie Steiner had battled an aggressive germ cell cancer for almost a year – with charming pluck and a wizened emotional depth – when she looked searchingly at her mother and posed a tender, but probing question.

At just 15 years old, the high school freshman knew her body had been so ravaged by disease and tumors that dreams of high school graduation, college, career, wedding and other milestones would likely be just that. Dreams.

Sophie’s life was coming to an end. She was searching for meaning, a clarity of purpose. She wanted to know what her place in the world should be, “her thing.”

Sophie, who could amaze, delight and occasionally frustrate her family with her bracing authenticity and candor, was determined not to let the cancer draining life from her teenage body define her. But she was not sure, at such a young age, how she might be remembered.

Sophie had spent most of her freshman year of high school in the hospital, where she built a network of friends, fans and admirers as she walked enough laps around the halls to log 26.2 miles – her own marathon.

Sophie had gotten to know the life stories of her many nurses and doctors, relishing that she knew more about engagements, pregnancies and their activities outside work than some of the adults.

Sophie also became keenly aware in her extended stay at the UNC Children’s Hospital of what the National Cancer Institute calls a “no-man’s land” between pediatric and adult oncology.

One of her dying wishes was to do something that might help bridge that gap.

As Lucy Steiner pondered her middle daughter’s question about where she fit into the world, she thought about Sophie’s love of dance and the long lines she created with her slender limbs.

She considered the photographs Sophie took on the family’s travels around the world and the blog she had created, long before she became sick, to unleash her innermost thoughts.

Those all were a part of Sophie, but there was more.

Lucy Steiner told her frail, ill daughter that “her thing” was to use her amazingly mature insight to connect with people in an adult way inside a hospital where a team of health care providers marveled at her spirit and determination not to dwell on despair.

Be Loud! Sophie

Though cancer is much more common in adults than children, the American Cancer Institute estimates that one in 285 children in the United States will be diagnosed with the disease before the age of 20.

This year, about 10,450 new cases will be diagnosed in children under 14, and 5,330 in 15- to 19-year-olds.

Some of the patients in that adolescent-young adult age group are treated in children’s cancer units and others in adult units.

Sophie Steiner was able to work with her legion of admirers to make her stay in the UNC Children’s Hospital as comfortable and as meaningful as she could: The UNC field hockey team visited her on her birthday; a dance instructor came onsite for her; and she tried massages, restorative yoga and acupuncture to ease the body aches. But Sophie realized others were not as fortunate.

Sophie’s life ended on Aug. 30, 2013, and her family has spent much of the past year channeling their grief into efforts to keep her dreams alive.

“Sophie led a full life in her 15 years,” her father, Niklaus Steiner, director of the Center for Global Initiatives at the University of North Carolina, recalled recently. “She got to travel and meet such interesting people. While it was heartbreaking that it was far too short, it was quality and not quantity.”

The Steiners have created the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation to help raise money to aid teen cancer patients and their families at UNC Hospitals.

Through local music fund-raisers and other grassroots events, they have pulled in more than $150,000 with visions of building a $2 million endowment.

They have turned Sophie’s old bedroom into a foundation home office, of sorts, though many of her personal touches and effects are on the shelves and walls.

As the anniversary of Sophie’s death approached, Niklaus and Lucy Steiner and Sophie’s older sister, Elsa, gathered in the upstairs bedroom to talk about their efforts to heighten awareness about teen cancer issues gaining attention in U.S hospitals.

Across the country, hospitals have begun to add dedicated teen and young adult cancer units based on a model developed by the Teenage Cancer Trust in Great Britain.

Through such programs, medical oncologists are teamed with pediatric specialists, therapists and social workers to offer integrative treatment.

In many cases, teens with cancer face social isolation at a period of life when much focus is on friends, budding independence and plotting a path toward young adulthood.

Treatments often rob them of time and energy, making it difficult to keep up with the schoolwork and activities typical of teenage life.

In addition to building care teams, there also are efforts to dedicate hospital wings or halls where teens can be with other teens rather than scattered among adults or children.

‘Turn on the light’

Sophie Steiner was just weeks into her freshman year at East Chapel Hill High School when her mother took her to a doctor after she couldn’t shake severe abdominal cramps.

Sophie had made the field hockey team and was excited about the coming school year, but her pain had become overwhelming in September 2012.

That trip led to a diagnosis no one expected and an ensuing nine months that, despite the looming face of sorrow, brought much laughter, joy and poignancy.

Sophie cooked though she did not have much of an appetite. She exercised despite the aches of her illness.

She turned to her Harry Potter books for comfort and wisdom, painting a quote from Professor Dumbledore on a poster that hangs in her room today: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

And as she realized her days were limited, she told her older sister to do something “big” with her life for the both of them.

Sophie left a glimpse of herself and her hopes for the world in her online blog. In one of her free-flow musings from Dec. 1, 2011, Sophie wrote:

“I realized that I want to do something with my life. I want my name on a board in a conference room saying ‘Sophie Steiner did this with World Peace. We should invite her to come and talk. We should be more like her!’ But isn’t that what every person wants? To be famous?”

Though her name might not be on a conference room board heralding world peace, Sophie Steiner’s family intends to make sure her name is attached to efforts to reshape teen cancer treatment.

Two foundation board members will join 10 other runners on Sept. 5 and 6 at the Blue Ridge 200-mile relay to raise money for the cause.

The second Raise a Racquet fundraiser is set for Oct. 10 at the Farm in Chapel Hill to support programs for adolescent cancer patients.

In St. Louis, where Sophie spent one of her last Christmas holidays, two “self-taught bakers on a mission” will pull a cupcake truck they built through the neighborhood, sending profits to Be Loud! Sophie.

There have been many other fundraisers, small and large, and many more to come.

“This ultimately is a really positive way to channel our grief,” Niklaus Steiner said.

Sep 022014


By SYDNI DUNN | AUG. 31, 2014

WASHINGTON — Several weeks ago, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign abruptly revoked a job offer to Steven G. Salaita in the wake of controversial Twitter posts by Mr. Salaita, a former professor of English at Virginia Tech, about Israel.

Now, two scholars have signaled their protest by pulling out of speaking engagements at the campus, while a program that was set to host a national gathering there has called its conference off. Meanwhile, the American Indian studies program, which Mr. Salaita had been set to join, is scrambling to make up for his absence.

Mr. Salaita had been offered a job as a tenured professor of American Indian studies, but his appointment was contingent upon approval by the university’s Board of Trustees. Earlier this month administrators told Mr. Salaita in a letter that they would not bring his appointment before the board after all. An affirmative vote, they said, was unlikely.

The decision, which raised questions about contractual loopholes and academic freedom, almost immediately drew pushback from the academic community. Thousands of scholars in a variety of disciplines signed petitions pledging to avoid the campus unless it reversed its decision to rescind the job offer. A number of prominent academic associations also urged the university to reconsider.

In the past few days, several people have followed through on promises to boycott the institution. Two scholars declined invitations to speak at the prestigious Center for Advanced Study/MillerComm Lecture Series this fall, and a campus-based project called off a four-day national conference that it was scheduled to host there in October.

David J. Blacker, a professor of philosophy and legal studies at the University of Delaware, notified the Center for Advanced Study on Aug. 20 that he no longer wanted to participate. His lecture had been scheduled for Sept. 29.

“Instead of choosing education and more speech as the remedy for disagreeable speech,” he wrote to the committee, the University of Illinois “has apparently chosen ‘enforced silence.’ It thus violates what a university must stand for — whatever else it stands for — and therefore I join those who will not participate in the violation. In my judgment, this is a core and nonnegotiable issue of academic freedom.”

Mr. Blacker added that he “would be delighted to reschedule my talk” if the university should decide to reinstate its offer to Mr. Salaita.

The following day, Allen F. Isaacman, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota, also pulled out of the series, offering a similar message. His talk had been scheduled for Oct. 30.

“The University of Illinois’s recent decision to disregard its prior commitment to appoint Professor Salaita confirms my fear of the administration’s blatant disregard for academic freedom,” Mr. Isaacman wrote in a letter to Wayne Pitard, a professor of religion and head of the lecture-series committee. “I do hope that the university administration will reverse its decision before it does irreparable harm to your great institution.”

That same day, the Education Justice Project, which is part of the department of education policy, organization, and leadership at Urbana-Champaign, announced that it was canceling the National Conference on Higher Education in Prison, which it had been scheduled to host.

“This decision has not been easy,” Rebecca Ginsburg, an associate professor in the education policy department, said in an announcement posted on the project’s webpage. The project’s leaders reached the decision only after speaking with would-be presenters and attendees, she wrote. “We concluded that for EJP to host the conference at this time would compromise our ability to come together as a national community of educators and activists.”

Ms. Ginsburg could not be reached for comment Friday; university administrators also did not respond to calls for comment.

On the campus, tensions are just as high.

The chancellor, Phyllis M. Wise, said in a message to the campus on the afternoon of Aug. 22 that she and other administrators remained “absolutely” committed to academic freedom and to open debate that welcomed and encouraged differing perspectives.

The decision regarding Mr. Salaita was not influenced by his criticism of Israel or his views about the conflict in the Middle East, she said.

“What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois,” she wrote, “are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.

“We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals,” she added.

The university system’s president and members of the Board of Trustees also issued a statement reinforcing the chancellor’s comments and saying that she had their “collective and unwavering support.”

That evening, however, faculty members in the American Indian studies program, a unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, cast a unanimous vote of no confidence in Ms. Wise’s leadership, criticizing her handling of the last-minute withdrawal of the offer to Mr. Salaita.

“In clear disregard of basic principles of shared governance and unit autonomy, and without basic courtesy and respect for collegiality, Chancellor Wise did not consult American Indian studies nor the college before making her decision,” reads a statement posted on the program’s webpage.

“With this vote of no confidence, the faculty of UIUC’s American Indian studies program also joins the thousands of scholars and organizations in the United States and across the world in seeing the chancellor’s action as a violation of academic freedom and freedom of speech,” the statement says.

The note goes on to encourage other departments to do the same, and to question whether the chancellor deserves the confidence of Illinois’s full faculty.

“Our faculty are deeply dismayed at the actions of the campus leadership,” Robert Warrior, director of the American Indian studies program, said in an interview.

With less than a week left until the first day of class, he added, the small program had been scrambling to cover the two courses Mr. Salaita had been expected to teach this fall.

“We are in the process of canceling sections, shifting resources around, and making do,” Mr. Warrior said. “We’re such a small unit that getting from Point A to Point B can be complicated.”

In fact, the program, which has just seven tenure-track professors and one untenured faculty member serving on a fixed term, was already down one full professor: Another scholar had recently left for an endowed professorship. “We’re really hurting, just in terms of the people we have around to shoulder the load,” Mr. Warrior said.

For now, all sections of Mr. Salaita’s classes have been covered by other faculty members in the program, Mr. Warrior said. But in order to assure that those high-demand classes were salvaged, the program had to trim sections of other, less-popular courses instead.

“In the end, it’s a matter of us having to ask faculty to take on some tasks we normally wouldn’t want them to do,” he said. “That means some people are teaching classes they aren’t necessarily prepared to teach. We’re really just trying to fulfill our goal of teaching students. We don’t want to turn them away. And we wouldn’t punish students in order to prove a point.”

Sep 022014



SEPT. 1, 2014

In late 2012, Arkansas hired Bret Bielema as its football coach, paying him a salary of $3.2 million a year, plus bonuses, making him one of the best-compensated coaches in his industry and his state’s highest-paid employee.

During Bielema’s first season, the Razorbacks won their first three games before losing their last nine, prompting some fans to wonder whether Arkansas had overpaid him. One fan took to Facebook to sarcastically thank the coach for the three wins: “Good job, Bielema, here’s $3 million dollars for that.” Another posted on Twitter that the coach should share his paycheck with his players who “get paid nothing but bring $ to the university.”

But, according to a new study by researchers at Vanderbilt, coaches like Bielema who command what are widely seen as robust salaries are worth the money because of the value they bring to their universities. The Vanderbilt study, which included 947 contracts from 2005 to 2013, benchmarked coaching salaries against those of chief executive officers at public companies — another group that is often accused of being paid too much.

“Coaches are running large programs that have tremendous value,” said Randall S. Thomas, a law and business professor and one of the authors of the study. “They are creating great value, and they are being paid for creating that value.”

He added that coaches compare “quite directly to public company C.E.O.s.”

In universities’ zest to compete, many routinely court coaches as if they were recruiting a new chief executive: offering millions of dollars, the power to hire and fire others, and even the use of a private jet. A result is that big paydays are hardly unusual in college football, in which head coaches, win or lose, have been among the biggest financial beneficiaries of the ballooning amount of cash flowing into the industry.

The increasing demands to win, coupled with billion-dollar television deals, have combined to cause the average pay for coaches at the top level of Division I football to double since 2005 to $1.5 million, the Vanderbilt study found.

Like chief executives, numerous coaches make more than $3 million a year and enjoy special perks, the researchers found.

Nick Saban, the coach at Alabama, receives personal use of a private jet each year, in addition to his pay. Les Miles at Louisiana State has a provision in his deal that will automatically make him the highest-paid coach in the Southeastern Conference, by $1,000, should he coach his squad to another national championship.

“If one believes that C.E.O. compensation is set by the market at an appropriate level, and that employment contracts reflect this equilibrium, then one should reach the same conclusion about football coaches,” wrote Thomas and co-author, R. Lawrence Van Horn, an associate professor of economics and management. The professors shared with The New York Times a draft of their report, which has not been published or peer-reviewed.

To be sure, there are significant differences between a football coach and a chief executive, some of them acknowledged by the authors. One divergence is that coaches often have higher fixed salaries, while compensation for chief executives tends to be heavily influenced by performance. In addition, executive pay is also supposed to be closely monitored by experts on company boards. In some cases, the boards even have the power to take back pay that was promised to executives in previous awards. And the chief executives are often paid a substantial part of their compensation in company stock — which can fall in value if the firm underperforms — something that does not exist in college football, at least as it stands.

The debate over the pay of football coaches at big public institutions is especially in focus at a time when the N.C.A.A. is facing increasing criticism.

Some contend that the sizable coaching salaries are enabled by what critics call the exploitative nonpayment of college football players. Others believe the coaches’ compensation packages are evidence that the universities are overly invested in athletics and spending to keep up in sports. At the same time, there are concerns that academics and budget cuts at large public universities are being minimized.

“It has gotten out of whack,” said David Ridpath, a former athletics administrator at Marshall who has been critical of the N.C.A.A. Runaway salaries, Ridpath said, have “caused and fueled greater problems in college athletics.”

As it stands, college football coaches at public universities often make more than not only the athletic director but also the university president — and probably the governor, too — which critics like Ridpath say poses a danger to their institutions. “I don’t believe that a football coach, under any circumstance, should be paid more than their boss because it skews the power structure and causes many of the problems in academia that we have now,” Ridpath said.

But others say that a reality of big-time college athletics is that top-level coaches are special talents with huge jobs, and the market demands that they be well compensated. The jobs are often short-lived, and the stress level is high.

“They are worth every penny,” said Martin J. Greenberg, a Milwaukee-based sports lawyer who has represented coaches in contract negotiations for 25 years.

Greenberg said that coaches nowadays suffered from what he called “role strain,” meaning they have a huge range of responsibilities, including fund-raising, recruiting, academics, being public figures and meeting with alumni. “They are asked to do just about everything under the guise of being the football coach,” Greenberg added.

Neil Cornrich, an agent who represents Bielema, as well as some of the other highly paid coaches, including Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, said the coaches were creating immense value, which is not difficult to quantify, and that the salaries were market-driven.

“There are very few people that are able to properly handle these jobs, particularly for a period of time, where it adds great value to the university,” Cornrich said.

When Bielema was courted by Arkansas, the job opening was seen as one of the most challenging and intriguing. The incoming coach would be the third in three years and would inherit a team coming off a four-win season, but he would also be at the helm of a program competing with the best teams in the SEC. That was all factored into the compensation package that Arkansas offered Bielema, who was leaving a high-profile job at Wisconsin, where he coached the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowl appearances.

As Bielema begins his second season on the job, Arkansas fans will be keeping a close eye on him, looking to how the university’s investment is paying off.

To Bielema’s supporters, progress is already being made.

“It’s already been a good investment because he has stabilized the ship,” Cornrich said.

Sep 022014


By Douglas Belkin

Sept. 1, 2014

TINLEY PARK, Ill.—Sean Bensema stayed up late one recent evening practicing and woke up unusually early the next morning to prepare for the biggest moment of his life: a tryout for an athletic scholarship to college.

The shaggy-haired 18-year-old didn’t need to change out of the T-shirt he slept in or even leave his parents’ house to make the squad. He just set up his laptop on the dining-room table and started stunning his enemies with fire shot from the hands of his digital avatar.

Mr. Bensema is among 150 players competing for a spot on the nation’s first varsity videogame team. At stake: a scholarship that might be worth $50,000.

“Am I nervous? Yes, I am definitely nervous!” Mr. Bensema said. “Usually, I just play for fun, you know. This is different.”

In a time of tight budgets, many colleges have been cutting back scholarships and eliminating programs in sports like swimming and gymnastics.

Robert Morris University, a small, accredited private school whose main campus is in downtown Chicago, has taken a different tack—boosting the number of athletic scholarships to more than 700, from 150 a decade ago, in a bid to stem declining enrollment.

Today, among the school’s more than 3,200 undergraduates, there are scholarship athletes in bowling, color guard, cheerleading and dance. One student gets $6,000 for dressing up as “Fuzzy,” the school’s eagle mascot. Other athletic scholarships that have been or are being considered include roller derby, bass fishing and paintball.

Touted as a way to improve team spirit and develop life skills, the scholarships are a way to drive down the $44,000 cost of tuition, room and board.

Kurt Melcher, the Associate Athletic Director at Robert Morris, dreamed up the idea of a videogame scholarship this past spring when he came across a game called “League of Legends,” Mr. Bensema’s specialty. The online game of strategy and teamwork pits teams of five players against one another in a battle for domination that is sort of like a high-speed digital version of capture the flag.

“I just couldn’t believe how elaborate it was,” said Mr. Melcher.

‘League of Legends’ character

In October, the League of Legends world championships drew 32 million viewers online. An additional 18,000 fans packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles to watch two teams of five skinny young men click away on their mice—as the game played out on huge screens overhead. When a player died, fans screamed as loudly as if Kobe Bryant had just launched himself from the free-throw line and thrown down a two-handed dunk.

Mr. Bensema, whose earnestness and braces make him seem even younger than his years, was first sucked into this online world two years ago when his cousin introduced him to the game.

“I didn’t really play videogames that much but he said, ‘Trust me, just check it out,’ ” Mr. Bensema said.

He now plays about four hours a day, starting around 9 p.m.

On screen, he does battle via three avatars: Annie, a redhead who carries a teddy bear and can shoot flames; Malzahar, a prophet with glowing blue eyes and the power to stun his enemies; and Zed, “Master of the Shadows,” who can teleport himself and fire a “deathmark” to kill opponents.

“When I’m playing, I’m thinking about who to kill, and how to kill them and whether any of my teammates needs my help,” Mr. Bensema said. “Every game is totally different.”

In April, Mr. Melcher submitted a one-page proposal to field a League of Legends team. Two weeks later, the president’s council came back and said they wanted to offer 60 scholarships of up to 50% off tuition and room and board.

“We saw this as a chance to reach kids who might not have otherwise considered us,” said Provost Mablene Krueger. For the school, a significant short-term cost of the program is the new esports arena, a retrofitted classroom with 36 gaming stations that will cost the school about $100,000.

The school received a handful of responses when it posted the announcement on its website. Then the owners of Riot Games, which created League of Legends, posted it on the game’s website. Within 48 hours, the school got 2,200 inquiries from as far away as Gambia, in West Africa. Almost all of them were from males.

The top comment on the message board on the game’s home page captured the broader sense of vindication among young gamers: “So it’s official, playing videogames can benefit my education now…HAHA MOM.”

When word reached the varsity basketball team a couple of players walked down to Mr. Melcher’s office to complain, Mr. Melcher says. He told them shooting a ball through a hoop had once been considered an oddity, too.

Mr. Bensema said he was awe-struck when he heard about the scholarship. He had just graduated from high school and was hoping to go to the University of Southern Illinois, but he applied to Robert Morris the next day.

A few weeks later, he got a call from Ferris Ganzman, the school’s newly hired 22-year-old coach, who helped put himself through Loyola University in Chicago by coaching professional League of Legends teams (earning $3,000 a month from his dorm room).

Mr. Ganzman vetted applicants based on their ratings and tryouts. Mr. Bensema’s scores put him on the bubble, so he would have to shine during the tryout to earn a scholarship.

Both Julie and Frank Bensema said they have worried at times that their son was spending too much time playing videogames.

“I’m an old school football wrestler guy,” Mr. Bensema said.

But on the day of Sean’s tryout, they watched anxiously from the doorway as he did battle on-screen and coordinated with his teammates through a headset.

Through the first 10 minutes, neither Mr. Bensema nor his teammates could gain an edge. Then they caught a break when a teammate “killed” an enemy playing in an area called the jungle. Soon, the team was moving in a tight wedge and mowing down the opposition one at a time.

“Get the kill! Get the kill! Get the kill!” young Mr. Bensema shouted, his voice rising and his face red. Then: “All right! All Right! All right! There we go!”

Back in Chicago, Mr. Ganzman listened to the game and made mental notes about what kind of player Sean was.

“He exceeded my expectations,” said Mr. Ganzman, who offered Mr. Bensema a scholarship for 25% of tuition.

Mr. Bensema was initially disappointed by the scholarship offer—which was less than he hoped for. He calculates he will graduate with at least $40,000 in debt—significantly more than if he attended state school. But after some soul searching he decided to head to Robert Morris.

“I’m doing a sport that’s cool,” he said. “And it could lead somewhere. There’s a lot of people making a lot of money playing videogames.”

Aug 292014


By Bobby Burns 
and Abbie Bennett

August 28, 2014

At least 45,000 people are expected to fill Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday and pack tailgating areas prior to East Carolina University’s first football game of the year.

The Pirates will take on the North Carolina Central University Eagles in an 8 p.m. contest that will be nationally televised on 
ESPNews. Parking lots open six hours prior to kickoff.
Story continues below advertisement

The ECU ticket office reported that 40,000 seats had been sold as of Thursday, and expected another 5,000 to be sold today. The stadium’s capacity is 50,000.

Law enforcement expects traffic to be heavy before and after the game, and between 100-150 officers from eight agencies will be on the lookout for underage and excessive drinking, ECU Police Department Lt. Chris Sutton said Thursday.

EMS units will be present throughout the game in all tailgating areas to respond to medical issues, he said.

“This is not something that the ECU Police Department and East Carolina can pull off on its own,” Sutton said at an 10:30 a.m. news conference at the stadium. “It takes a collective effort … While it’s a great economic impact for the city, community and university we can’t do it with out those external partners.”

An alcohol-fueled brawl in the Student Pirate Club tailgate lot injured a 23-year-old alumnus prior to last year’s season opener against Old Dominion on Aug. 31. Two people were charged in the incident and banned from campus.

This year, the university has created an alcohol-free tailgating area at the request of students, Sutton said. No alcohol will be allowed in the area between the soccer, softball and baseball stadium, south of Dowdy-Ficklen.

Sutton said students wanted an area in part to coincide with Parents Weekend, which is this weekend. The university will maintain the area for future games if it is successful, Sutton said.

A late start and warm temperatures predicted for Saturday’s game had Sutton encouraging fans to start hydrating early. Drinking lots of water will help mitigate the affects of heat and alcohol, he said.

Only beer and malted beverages are allowed in the tailgating areas. Liquor is not allowed, Sutton said. No alcohol of any kind is allowed in the stadium.

Officers from the Greenville, Winterville and Pitt Community College police departments will assist ECU police this year along with officers from the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office and State Highway Patrol. Also joining the effort this year will be the Ayden and Newport police departments.

Law officers will have two command centers, including a mobile unit supplied by Greenville police. ECU officers will be minding the Student Pirate Club lot with help from a platform elevated by a scissor lift truck.

Officials are not expecting inclement weather outside of temperatures in the 90s. However, the stadium will be evacuated in the event of lightning or several storm warnings.

Sutton said fans will be directed into several areas inside the stadium and into Minges Coliseum and the new basketball practice facility adjacent to the stadium.

A video will be played on the large screen at the stadium to educate fans on evacuation procedures he said.

Traffic is expected to be heavy around the stadium, particularly Charles Boulevard and East 14th Street. Sutton said driving restrictions will be the same as last season.

Fourteenth Street will be closed at least four hours prior to game time between West Rock Springs Road and Elm Street.

Parking on the north and south sides of 14th Street from Elm Street to Berkley Road will be by permit only. No vehicles will be allowed in the area unless they have a visible parking pass or 14th Street access pass.

All travel restrictions will be in place three hours prior to kickoff and remain in effect until about an hour and a half after the game ends.


Saturday marks East Carolina’s first football game as a member of the new American Athletic Conference. Better cellular service, new entertainment and new concessions are among other new features at Dowdy-Ficklen this year.

  • The pregame show starts 20 minutes prior to kickoff and will begin with the “Storm is Coming” video followed by PeeDee’s customary “Bad to the Bone.” The marching band will unveil its new video with the Pirates’ new team entrance production set to begin six minutes before kickoff.
  • Sportscaster Brian Bailey of WNCT-9 will patrol the sidelines during all home games and conduct interviews to be featured on the stadium’s video board throughout the contest.
  • The stadium will have 40 additional cell points to improve mobile phone signal so fans can interact with one another via their favorite social media outlets. Pizza Hut’s interactive promotional squad will make its debut in the upper deck for giveaways during every time out.
  • Two new concession stands will be accessible outside the stadium for tailgating and will be open from 2-5 p.m. Saturday and one hour prior to the start of remaining home games. The stands will be located outside Gate 10 and adjacent to the bullpen on the first-base side of Clark-LeClair Stadium.
  • Items for sale will include 20-pound bags of ice, Dippin’ Dots, peanuts, bottled soft drinks, bottled water, Powerade and Cracker Jacks.
  • Gold Bucks now will be accepted at concession stands located in the Boneyard section with two registers on hand.
  • For East Carolina’s conference opener against SMU on Oct. 4, a commemorative game program for the Pirates’ inaugural game in the American Athletic Conference will be on sale.
  • Pirate fans can get autographs and take pictures with East Carolina mascot PeeDee the Pirate for one hour starting two-and-half hours prior to kickoff at Gate 5.
  • Padded chair backs will be available to fans in the purple seats section and can be reserved by going to
  • The university will host alcohol-free tailgating events on Sept. 20 and Oct. 23 at the bottom of College Hill.
  • For fans interested in traveling to any of the Pirates’ six road games, the ECU Department of Transportation offers a ride-sharing network called Zimride.

Gameday tips

All parking lots open six hours prior to the game. Most lots near the stadium are reserved for Pirate Club permit holders.


Parking for fans without reserved parking passes will be available in the Carol Belk Building lot along Charles Boulevard and in the gravel lots along 14th Street for $20 per vehicle. Spaces will be first-come, first-served. Access to the lots along 14th Street will be shut down four hours prior to kick-off.


The Uptown Greenville organization and Wells Fargo Bank are offering a free shuttle service to the stadium area for fans who want to park in the downtown area. The shuttle stops at University Book Exchange, Winslow’s Market and Deli, Sup Dogs and the Varsity Club in downtown Greenville. It will run three hours prior and two hours after the game.


Fans who need accessible parking assistance can park on campus in the lots in front of Christenbury Gym/Brewster Building/Fletcher Music Center along 10th Street just west of the Elm Street intersection with 10th Street. Passengers will be able to ride shuttles to the stadium and back to their cars after the game. Vehicles will only be admitted to the Christenbury lots with a valid state issued handicap-parking pass that must be registered in the name of one of the vehicle’s passengers. Ownership of the placard is subject to verification.


Gates will open two hours before kick-off. Ticket scanners will be used at all gates. Spectators are asked to have their tickets ready for scanning and to arrive early to avoid long lines and the potential for a delayed admittance.
Fans are not permitted on to the playing field during or after the game without credentials.
Purses, back packs, diaper bags, etc., are prohibited from stadium if they are larger than 10-inches cubed. Boxes will be located at each gate to measure all bags.
If you need assistance in the stands, send a text message to the fan assist program. Text “ECU” to 94597 and stadium personnel will respond. Message and data rates may apply.
Umbrellas are not permitted in any seating area.


No traffic will be allowed west on 14th Street from Elm Street. All traffic exiting from the C.M. Eppes parking lot will be diverted west on 14th Street and turn right onto College Hill Drive to 10th Street.

All traffic exiting from Berkley Road will be diverted east onto 14th Street. Fourteenth Street from Berkley Road to Elm Street will be eastbound traffic only. The center lane will be sent east on 14th Street crossing over Elm Street out to Greenville Boulevard and the right lane will turn right or south at Elm Street. Traffic leaving the stadium area on 14th Street will not be allowed to turn north on Elm Street. Traffic traveling south on Elm Street will have to go to Greenville Boulevard. Turn around cutouts will be closed from 14th Street to Greenville Boulevard.

Traffic traveling south on Elm Street at Greenville Boulevard will not be allowed to turn right to travel west onto Greenville Boulevard. Motorists will only be able to travel south on Elm Street or turn east onto Greenville Boulevard.

No traffic will be allowed east on 14th Street from West Rock Springs Road.

Charles Boulevard will be closed to southbound traffic at 14th Street. All southbound traffic on Charles from 10th Street will be diverted west on 14th Street toward Evans Street.

At Greenville and Charles boulevards no traffic will be allowed north on Charles. Traffic traveling north on Charles Boulevard from Red Banks Road will be diverted right onto Greenville Boulevard.

Traffic exiting the stadium area onto Charles Boulevard from the east side (stadium side) will have to travel north until they reach 14th Street. Traffic exiting onto Charles Boulevard from the west side (Carol Belk Building/Stratford Road side) will have to travel south until they reach Greenville Boulevard. No U-turns will be allowed on Charles Boulevard from Greenville Boulevard north to 14th Street.

Pedestrians will need to stay on the sidewalk on Berkley Road from Blackbeard’s Alley (rear stadium entrance/exit) to the railroad tracks near 14th Street. Pedestrians are asked to use the marked crosswalk to cross 14th Street due to vehicle traffic that will be exiting at the same time on the same route to 14th Street.