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Tribute to William C. Friday

Tribute to William C. Friday (July 13, 1920 – Oct. 12, 2012)

William C. Friday, the founding co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, died on Friday, Oct. 12.  He served as co-chairman when the Commission issued its landmark 1991 report calling for reforms to produce presidential control, academic and financial integrity in college sports.  Friday co-chaired the Commission again when it reconvened to issue its 2001 report calling for additional reforms.  He was the sole chair of the Commission when it reconvened in 2003.  He retired from the Commission in 2005.

Friday served as the president of the University of North Carolina for 30 years from 1956 to 1986.  As the Raleigh News and Observer  notes: “He was the face of North Carolina higher education in the 20th century. He was also regarded as an influential leader in U.S. education and one of the longest serving university presidents.”

His life-long contributions have praised in statements by his Knight Foundation and Knight Commission colleagues. 

Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, founding Knight Commission co-chairman with Bill Friday, also served as co-chair for the Commission’s 1991 and 2001 reports.  Hesburgh, 95,  said, “Bill’s intelligence was matched only by his integrity.  We will certainly miss him…and there is no one to match him.”

Knight Foundation president Alberto Ibarguen said, “He was an essential educator who understood “student-athlete” as an ideal to teach both discipline and values.”  Former Knight Foundation president Hodding Carter said, “Bill Friday embodied the best of the old virtues, from civility and courtesy to courage and commitment. The key to his remarkable stature and influence was that he never stopped learning and he never stopped listening. He also never stopped talking about the things that mattered, whether from a public platform, over the phone or face-to-face. When you left him, you knew where your duty lay.”

Bill Friday led the Knight Commission’s efforts in 2001 when the Commission proposed that the NCAA adopt a rule that required teams to graduate at least 50 percent of their players in order to be eligible for postseason championships, including football bowl games. The NCAA adopted the rule in 2011. 

Knight Commission Co-Chairman William E. (Brit) Kirwan, chancellor, University System of Maryland said, “Generations of college administrators, faculty, students, and athletes will be better off for Bill Friday’s vision of what college sports can be at its best.”

The NCAA honored Friday in 2005 with the Association’s prestigious Gerald R. Ford Award. During the recognition ceremony at the 2005 NCAA Convention, the late NCAA President Myles Brand praised Friday for “elevating the importance of higher education and the development of an involved and participatory citizenry by ensuring that access is available to all.” 

“Intercollegiate athletics clearly has lost a great leader,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert .  “Bill Friday was a champion for the collegiate model. He believed in it intensely, and his unwavering passion for the success of student-athletes in competition and in the classroom was consummate. The NCAA benefited greatly from Bill Friday, both as an educator and as an advocate.”

His contributions to the UNC system were described by former UNC system president Erskine Bowles: “For me, the University of North Carolina will always be Bill Friday’s university,” said Erskine Bowles, former UNC system president. “He quite literally poured the foundation for it, and then over a distinguished tenure that spanned 30 years, he helped build our public university system into the extraordinary economic and cultural engine it is for today. The positive impact this great man had on our university, our state and our nation is staggering.”

Calling him “a leader for the ages,” the Raleigh News and Observer editorial said “he embodied the best of what North Carolina was, and could hope to be.”

Knight Commission Co-Chairman R. Gerald Turner, president , Southern Methodist University, served on the Commission chaired by Bill Friday in 1992 and again in 2001.  Turner added, “Bill Friday’s life-long accomplishments providing decades of inspired leadership in higher education speak for themselves but words cannot describe the impact he had made on a personal level through his sincerity, kindness, honesty and wisdom.”

Many more words will be said to honor Bill Friday and none will do him justice.

The following statement can be attributed to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics:

We feel a great sense of loss upon hearing the news that our dear friend and tireless leader William Friday passed away this morning.  The positive and lasting impact Bill Friday had on higher education and college sports in particular cannot be overstated.   As the founding co-chairman of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, he provided the moral compass for the Knight Commission and higher education on the subjects of presidential leadership, academic and financial integrity.  His stalwart determination to see this effort through to the end was evident in a passionate interview published in The Washington Post earlier this week where he insisted it’s possible to compete in college sports without compromising values.  He leaves a tremendous legacy and we are honored to have worked with him.

“Bill’s intelligence was matched only by his integrity.  We will certainly miss him…and there is no one to match him.”

- Father Theodore Hesburgh, president emeritus of Notre Dame, founding Knight Commission co-chairman with Bill Friday, and co-chair for the Commission’s 1991 and 2001 reports.

 “Generations of college administrators, faculty, students, and athletes will be better off for Bill Friday’s vision of what college sports can be at its best."

- Knight Commission Co-Chairman William E. (Brit) Kirwan, chancellor, University System of Maryland

“Bill Friday’s life-long accomplishments providing decades of inspired leadership in higher education speak for themselves but words cannot describe the impact he has made on a personal level through his sincerity, kindness, honesty and wisdom.”

- Knight Commission Co-Chairman R. Gerald Turner, president, Southern Methodist University 

“Bill Friday was a superb human being.  He embodied the  best of the old virtues, from civility and courtesy to courage and commitment.  He loved North Carolina with a deep and  abiding passion and he always remembered that public higher education was meant to serve the people---all the people.  At 92, his head was as focused on the future as it was when was running the  University of North Carolina for 30  years.  The key to his remarkable stature and influence was that he never stopped learning and he  never stopped listening.   He also never stopped talking about the things that mattered, whether from a public platform, over the phone or face-to-face.   When you left him, you knew where your duty lay.

"So it was with the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, born in the late 1980s of his vision and the immediate spark it struck in Creed Black, my predecessor as president of the Foundation.  Along with Father Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame, they proved anew that an  idea whose time has come is a powerful thing.  Not irresistible, obviously, because almost a quarter century later the cesspool of corruption in big-time sports still fouls too many universities.  But powerful nonetheless, never more so than  in the spotlight the Commission’s reports put on those in higher education who dodged their responsibility to deal directly with the sickness they had sheltered. 

"Bill Fridays do not come along very often, nor does Bill Friday’s optimism.  But it is the example of Bill Friday’s grounded optimism that will remain with and inspire us for years to come." 

- Hodding Carter, former president of Knight Foundation and former Knight Commission member

“We will remember Bill Friday by resolving to never forget the lessons of an amazing life of service and commitment to principle.

He was an essential educator who understood "student-athlete" as an ideal to teach both discipline and values. He was a fearless lover of truth and a defender of free speech and engagement of community in solving problems. And even those of us who knew him less could not help but be charmed by his sharp and gently used sense of humor.

Bill was then Knight Foundation President Creed Black's inspiration for the creation of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.  He and his co-chair, Fr Theodore Hesburgh, were essential to its success.

Anyone who knew him, who benefitted from his leadership in education and in North Carolina, and all of us at Knight Foundation shall be forever grateful."

- Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO, Knight Foundation

Below: Friday and Rev. Theodore Hesburgh co-chair the 2000 Knight Commission meeting in Washington, D.C. Photo by Harvey Bilt.


William Friday