NCAA shinesa better lighton Tar Heels

The University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team on April’s first Monday suffered an excruciatingly painful loss in the NCAA title game, but the Monday two days ago brought a pretty good consolation prize.

The best measure of the NCAA’s long-awaited notice of allegations regarding UNC’s academic scandal were the reactions it provoked: There was a sigh of relief on the Chapel Hill campus, tempered a bit by the realization that penalties are coming, but that UNC’s prized basketball program and emerging football program will probably duck any significant sanctions — and the disappointment by the ABCers, which was expected, but also at a Raleigh newspaper that for six years didn’t go where the facts led and struggled to hide its disappointment upon learning the worst isn’t coming.

That Raleigh newspaper bears much of the blame for the disinformation concerning UNC scandals, of which there were two, but most folks roll into one. There was an athletic scandal that began to unfold in 2010 concerning football players receiving illegal benefits, not from coaches or people passionate about UNC, but from sports agents. The result was the firing of an entire football staff, none of whom were implicated, the resignation of the athletics director, self-imposed sanctions that included scholarship reductions and a post-season ban that cost the football team a spot in the ACC championship game and the bowl game that would have followed.

The second scandal, which cost the chancellor his job, was academic, but engulfed the athletics program because almost half of the 3,100 students who over a couple of decades took less-than-rigorous courses — no, they were not fake — in the African-American Studies program were athletes, and a worrisome percentage played either football or basketball. That led critics to declare the courses were created to keep athletes eligible, including those who played for some of UNC’s better football teams in the 1990s as well as members of UNC’s 2005 basketball team that cut down the nets.

The Raleigh newspaper in unprecedented coverage fanned the flames, the national media parroted along, and the consensus became that the appropriate punishments would be that coaches should be fired, banners brought down, scholarships forfeited, post-season bans imposed, heavy fines levied — and, for some, the death penalty for what they crowned as the “worst athletic scandal in the history of the NCAA.”

The problem was, none of multiple investigations, and they almost reached double-digits, supported such penalties, and neither did any find evidence that a single coach at UNC provided improper benefits or shoved players into easy classes to keep them on the field or court.

In fact, the guilty parties were a few folks on the academic side who went rogue. Should those on the athletics side have noticed and expressed concern? Perhaps, but many of these athletes were black and attracted to courses about their unique history, and there is also a wall between academics and athletics. UNC basketball coach Roy Williams, to his credit, years ago began steering his players away from the major.

The NCAA puffed up, but in the end followed its own bylaws and went small, recognizing that it doesn’t police academics on campuses, and deeming some athletes ineligible for taking accredited courses decades or years ago that were available to every student at UNC was well beyond its jurisdiction. The critics are calling them cowards, but what the NCAA is afraid of is losing, as it would, in court.

All this is not to say that UNC is blameless and won’t pay a price.

There were five Level 1 violations, the most egregious, in the allegations, as well as the accusation of Lack of Institutional Control, so penalties, most likely heavy fines, perhaps lost scholarships, and a beating for women’s basketball are coming. The money-making basketball and football programs will likely be punished with the whole class, but nothing debilitating such as loss of scholarships, post-season bans and there will be no banners coming down.

The notice of allegatoins is an indication that the six-year saga is coming to an end at UNC and the Raleigh newspaper and those who invested so heavily in the demise of the state’s flagship university will have to find another obsession.



“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” (Yogi Berra)

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