The first item on the “Saturday Night Live” long-running “Weekend Update” skit three days ago understandably touched on Ebola.
The second was the growing North Carolina academic scandal. After noting how it is now believed to have spanned 18 years and involved more than 1,500 student-athletes, Update anchor Colin Jost looked into the camera, the iconic NC logo displayed behind him and said, “UNC athletes refuted the report, calling it un-good and dis-true.”
Note to Tar Heel alums and fans the world over: When your problems have risen to No. 2 on the Weekend Update list, you know you’re in a heap of public relations trouble.
Yet despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are no signs that North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams is ready to throw a Reagan-esque, Iran-Contra mea culpa out there for public consumption.
It was Reagan, after all, who stood before the country on March 4, 1987, and said, “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”
Should not Roy Boy be man enough to do the same? Just look into the eyes of Baby Blue Nation and say something along the lines of …: “A few months ago I told the UNC family that I was in shock and disbelief over allegations that term papers were written for my players rather than by those players. My heart still tells me that couldn’t have happened, but the facts and the evidence tell me otherwise, and I pledge to you, the Carolina Nation, to never let this happen again.”
Instead, we got this from Williams at the close of last week: “Nobody knows what’s going to happen with the NCAA, but I feel strongly, strongly that we did things the right way.”
As if it had been delivered by Duke’s Cameron Crazies, the evidence screams otherwise. It shouts of a quite organized and subversive plan to undermine all that UNC always has claimed to stand for — academic integrity above all else.
And however much the university would like to argue otherwise, this wasn’t a couple of rogue professors scamming the system for the promise of prime ACC tournament tickets or bowl packages. This was an 18-year scheme that involved more than 1,500 athletes, at least a few of whom almost certainly would have been ineligible without these African-American Studies courses, which basically required nothing more than a term paper, its author’s identity rarely checked.
Even Williams told ESPN in June: “Some things have happened that shouldn’t have happened.”
Yet if some things happened that shouldn’t have happened, how could his basketball program do things the right way? And if the Tar Heels did things the right way, why was Wayne Walden, whom Williams brought with him from Kansas in 2003, working with Deborah Crowder, the principal figure in the scam, to get basketball players into fake classes?
Also, if Walden was that involved, how could Williams not have known?
“When you bring your own academic counselor from Kansas and that counselor continued the sham for eligibility purposes, it is not believable that Roy Williams didn’t know about it,” Drake Group president Gerald Gurney told CBS Sports last week.
The Drake Group states on its website that its mission is to “defend academic integrity in higher education from the corrosive aspects of commercialized college sports.”
To that end, Gurney told CBS, “I can assure you the depth and breadth and sheer numbers of affected athletes is in fact the largest and the most egregious case of academic fraud by far in NCAA history. I feel almost certain that this is an egregious case of lack of institutional control. If ever there was a case, this is it.”
That’s the big-picture problem for the athletic department, the one that will demand that one of college athletics’ most smug and arrogant programs be required actually to practice what it long has preached.
But the far more finite issue may be what to do with UNC’s 2005 and 2009 men’s basketball championships, especially the 2005 title, which was won with much help from wing Rashad McCants.
McCants is the guy who stirred all this up in early June when he first spoke of the “paper classes.” According to transcripts he provided, strong grades in those classes offset weak grades in other courses well enough to keep him eligible for the Tar Heels’ national-championship run, which was also Williams’ first year as a head coach.
When Kenneth Wainstein — the former Department of Justice official hired to conduct this latest UNC investigation — filed his scathing report last week, he avoided directly implementing coaches, but he did point out that the GPA for six football players enrolled in the paper classes in 2009 was 3.61 as opposed to a 1.92 GPA in their other classes. Those scores strongly mirrored McCants’ grades in paper and non-paper classes.
Why did this happen? Given that it supposedly started in 1993, cynics might point to the fact that Duke had just won back-to-back NCAA basketball crowns, meaning the Tar Heels were no longer the kings of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
In light of Walden, it might also be worthwhile to check out Roy Boy’s academic practices at Kansas, though the UNC scam had been going for 10 years when Williams arrived at UNC before the start of the 2004-05 academic year.
As for the reason there’s been so little clamor from Tar Heels rivals to look into this, it well may be because almost all schools have some form of this deceit. They just don’t work as hard as UNC has over the years to project an image that they don’t.
In truth, the only thing certain at this point is that North Carolina’s first two investigations of this mess before Wainstein got involved were clearly un-good and dis-true.
But if the NCAA really wants to show some guts, it will at least hold Williams to a statement he made to ESPN in June, when he said, “I tell the kids all the time, ‘You’re accountable, you’re responsible.'”
So should be their coach.
This article was republished with permission from the author, Ms. Mark Wiedmer. The article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press.