We're not really sure what to make of everything that has happened at UNC over the last couple of days, but it's not good, least of all UNC's response(s) to Mary Willingham's work on UNC athletes and academics as publicized by CNN.
To be kind, let's separate UNC's official response from that of Roy Williams.
To extend the generosity, let's concede that Williams is in a position to better know his player's intellectual accomplishments, strengths and weaknesses and that he inevitably has different insights into his team than people who are not close to it.
We'll come back to him in a bit.
As for the university, the suggestion that it needs to "look at [Willingham's] data" before commenting on it is ridiculous, since, as she rightly points out, she got all of it from the school in the first place and CNN has established that she did share her findings with UNC, not one but twice.
UNC - there's no way to sugarcoat this - lied and was forced to admit that she had shared her work and was authorized by the university to do her research.
Willingham has already established credibility: she helped to expose the fraudulent classes in the African & Afro-American Studies Department.
So as far as these two parties go, the employer and the employee Willingham, the employee deserves far more respect. UNC's handling of the scandals continues to be dishonest, disjointed and disrespectful to the public and the taxpayers.
Now back to the other notable employee, Coach Williams.
As we said, we realize that he has a very different perspective. He may know of players who came in with very weak academics and who thrived. He may be thinking of self-starters like Harrison Barnes.
Here's what he said about the controversy after the Miami game:
"I don’t believe that’s true. It’s totally unfair. I’m really proud of the kids we’ve brought in here. I’m really proud of what our student-athletes have done. That’s not fair. I’ve been here 10 recruiting classes, I guess. We haven’t brought anybody in like that. We’ve had one senior since I’ve been here that did not graduate. Anybody can make any statement they want to make, but that is not fair."
The university issued a statement containing this: "We do not believe that claim and find it patently unfair to the many student-athletes who have worked hard in the classroom and on the court and represented our University with distinction."
The logical if rude follow-up should have been: how many of your seniors majored in African & Afro-American studies, coach?
If we understand correctly, 54 fraudulent classes were, well not taught, but listed anyway, with the African & Afro-American Studies Department from 2007 until the scheme was discovered, and there are some indications that it may have gone back to the Smith era.
Sean May graduated in 2009 with a degree in African & Afro-American Studies. David Noel also majored in the same field.
Tyler Hansbrough took Swahili. Hansbrough and Bobby Frasor both took NAVS 302, a class which the N&O also investigated, which had no exams, quizzes or research papers.
According to the link above, "[e]nrollment data for the African studies classes show basketball players accounted for 23 enrollments over a two-year period that began with the first summer semester of 2007. In two cases, the sole enrollee in one of the no-show classes was a basketball player. There were no more enrollments after the summer of 2009, while football players continued to enroll in no-show classes."
The question, it seems to us, is did Williams know that his athletes were being steered to fraudulent classes?
It's possible that he didn't. We knew of a coach at VCU who preceded Jeff Capel who was very explicit about never wanting to know anything about academics. Academic support staff was warned not to ever mention classes to this coach because it made him "nervous" and also, it was understood, because it gave him plausible deniability.
We don't doubt that there has been a lot for Williams to take pride in. Despite our personal dislike for him, we know full well that Harrison Barnes was the epitome of a student-athlete. The guy came in with so many credits already that, counting summer school sessions, he could have graduated after his sophomore year.
There are questions now though, and serious ones, about May, about Noel, and about every basketball player who took those classes.
In his response, you'll note Williams didn't say that it wasn't true, but rather that he didn't believe it was true.
Not quite the same thing.
Nor was the university's response transparent: "We do not believe that claim and find it patently unfair to the many student-athletes who have worked hard in the classroom and on the court and represented our University with distinction."
Not believing it is not the same thing as rebutting it.
As we've said many times, UNC has consistently made this situation worse by failing to deal with it comprehensively.
Now, for the first time, the basketball program is being seriously questioned and things could spin out of control. Once that starts, who knows where it will stop?