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Longtime intercollegiate athletics advocate Bill Friday dies

William C. Friday, president emeritus of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a forceful voice for maintaining intercollegiate athletics as a part of higher education, died early Friday in Chapel Hill. He was 92.

“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.”

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.”

Friday was perhaps best known as the founding co-chair of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a presidentially led independent oversight group that has worked closely with the NCAA for more than two decades on reform efforts within intercollegiate athletics.

 “This country gave the world the idea of the public school,” Friday said upon receiving the award. “We created the world’s greatest system of universities. It’s interesting that out of that the foundation has grown into a cultural force in our country: intercollegiate athletic competition. There will be hundreds of thousands of young people in dozens and dozens of our colleges and universities and in dozens and dozens of sports to have the experience in coordination of mind and body and the thrill of personal achievement.”

In addition to the Knight Commission, Friday served in leadership roles on a number of national committees, boards and commissions during his tenure, including the Association of American Universities and the Presidential Task Force on Higher Education.

 “Bill understood keenly the connection between higher education and intercollegiate athletics,” Emmert said. “He helped us shape our reform efforts over time, and his influence continues to this day.”

“He was an essential educator who understood ‘student-athlete’ as an ideal to teach both discipline and values,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and chief executive officer of the Knight Foundation. “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.”

Current Commission co-chairs William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland System; and R. Gerald Turner, president at Southern Methodist University, also praised their longtime mentor and colleague.

“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,” Kirwan said.

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 has made on a personal level through his sincerity, kindness, honesty and wisdom.”

Friday, who was born in Raphine, Va., but grew up in Dallas, N.C., earned a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering from North Carolina State University in 1941. He married Ida Howell a year later and served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1942 until 1946. After World War II, he entered North Carolina’s law school, where he was president of the Law School Association, and graduated in 1948.

Friday worked in several leadership positions before taking the helm of the then three-campus university in 1956. From 1948 until 1951, he was assistant dean of students. In 1955, Friday became secretary of the university and was named acting president the following year. He was chosen to take the position permanently later in 1956 and remained until 1986.