clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How To Cheat For 20 Years In The NCAA And (Almost) Get Away With It

New, 7 comments

UNC's long history of academic fraud isn't enough to goad the NCAA into significant action.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Sylvia Hatchell may have coached her last game at UNC.
Sylvia Hatchell may have coached her last game at UNC.
Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA has sent its Amended Notification of Allegations to UNC and UNC released it Tuesday.

If you're going to shop Amazon please start here and help DBR
Drop us a line at our new address

Bottom line? Women's basketball is going to take the fall. Our guess is you can just about kiss Sylvia Hatchell goodbye. She's going to be the patsy in this mess.

Men's basketball and football are written out of the report altogether.

We can only assume it's because the NCAA can't prove what they probably suspect, largely because former professor Julius Nyang'oro and his assistant Deborah Crowder refused to help the NCAA (more on that in a minute).

The focus of the slimmed-down report is Jan Boxill, noted UNC professor of ethics, who is mentioned in 15 separate cases of academic fraud. She says her e-mails were taken out of context. You'd think an academic might write more precisely than that.

So to sum it up: despite criminal charges being filed, despite several investigations including the Martin and Wainstein reports, despite being put on probation by the accreditation agency the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, despite Julius Peppers' damning transcript being made public, despite the lawsuit which revealed Michael McAdoo's plagiarism and began the exposure of wholesale systematic fraud, despite the other lawsuits by student-athletes, despite the unquestionable enrollment of dozens of football and men's basketball players in these fake classes, despite unauthorized grade changes, despite hiring an assistant men's basketball coach in Sean May without making clear that his degree was in fact earned (May talked extensively about taking independent study classes while at UNC which he said freed up his time considerably), which took place in the middle of the scandal in a giant middle finger to everyone, despite the NCAA investigation, football and men's basketball have a reasonable shot at getting away with a nearly 20-year effort to push players through school by means of fake classes taught in some cases without even the beard of a "professor" like Nyang'oro.

Look, we expect the NCAA took this investigation seriously and the idea that UNC got off light because it involves UNC has some flaws.

First, Ohio State, Penn State and Southern Cal are bigger money makers than UNC. They weren't protected. Neither was Syracuse or Louisville, both also featuring powerful athletic programs.

No, it's not that. It's because Nyang'oro and Crowder refused to cooperate. Crowder had a real soft spot for the basketball program. She had (or has) a long-term personal relationship with former basketball player Warren Martin and listed several basketball (and football) players as friends on her Facebook page.

We expect that without Nyang'oro and Crowder, the NCAA simply couldn't get enough evidence to proceed and had to leave out specific charges against football and men's basketball.

You'll recall that Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall dropped charges against Nyang'oro because he cooperated with the SBI, the DA's office and Kenneth Wainstein at Woodall's insistence.

It's too bad in retrospect that he didn't insist he cooperate with the NCAA as well.

After the charges were dropped, Nyang'oro's attorneys said he would continue to help UNC's investigation.

That clearly hasn't happened.

So football and most importantly basketball may get away with it, or at least with no major sanctions.

On the other hand, while the NCAA may not be able to tie anyone in basketball or football directly to the academic fraud, the fraud still exists. The transcripts still show the athletes who were enrolled in those "classes." It's entirely possible, and would be appropriate, if the NCAA voided every single event UNC won with an ineligible player, up to and including the Final Fours in 2005 and 2009.

It would also be appropriate to issue severe fines.

And the university still faces five very serious charges.

Still, depending on where this goes from here, it may not be entirely over even after the penalty phase.

UNC, which has moved heaven and earth to avoid facing up to this, has succeeded largely because the NCAA has no power of subpoena.

The DA does of course but he removed himself from the discussion.

However, the North Carolina legislature does have subpoena power as does the U.S. Congress.

We won't hold our breath waiting for the legislature to show courage. It's been a corrupt body for a long time and that's regardless of which party is in power.

Still, if the public were outraged enough, the legislature could intervene either with hearings or by invoking the power of the purse.

None of that is likely to happen of course, and Attorney General Roy Cooper, who won a lot of respect for how he handled the end of the lacrosse case, isn't likely to start an investigation in an election year (he's running for governor and in a very tight race for those of you who don't live around here).

And there's no point in expecting honor out of UNC at this late date. It certainly won't seek to emulate Michigan.

Why Michigan?

Because after the Chris Webber scandal broke, a scandal that was basically about money rather than academic fraud, Michigan did everything it possibly could to set things straight, including removing the ill-gotten Final Four banners the Wolverines hung during his two years in Ann Arbor.

Or NC State for that matter, which made real and substantial efforts to fix problems that took place in the Valvano era.

UNC by contrast has behaved disgracefully. It has fought disclosure at every turn. It has treated the media with contempt, going so far as to convert searchable text files into non-searchable PDF files. It has spent millions on attorneys and PR flacks and presumably some of that money came from the taxpayers. And now as UNC students apply to graduate schools, they're finding out that their accomplishments are tainted by the scandal. It's not fair to them, but who could blame an admissions department for a competitive program if it looked askance at a UNC application in 2016?

It's a series of betrayals really, but other than the athletes who were used and then discarded, in some ways the worst betrayal is how UNC has abandoned the courageous legacy of William C. Friday.

Friday headed up the UNC system for decades and did incredible things for this state. And when UNC had a serious problem with basketball, culminating with gamblers getting to players at UNC and NC State, Friday didn't hesitate to do what he thought was right. He forced Frank McGuire out, hired Dean Smith and severely limited the basketball program for several years. He canceled the Dixie Classic, which was a hugely unpopular thing to do.

Didn't matter. He did what he thought was right and did so because he didn't want sports to run the university.

His courage led to what was once called "the Carolina Way," the idea that you could compete at a high level and be an honorable public university. You might as well call it the Friday Way.

Sadly, he lived long enough to witness the start of this epic scandal and understood all too well what was unfolding, telling the Washington Post shortly before he died in 2012 that "the University of North Carolina has suffered a humiliation unlike anything it ever had before...We're in a very dangerous situation, I think. We have really reached a point where there is no control, in some spots."

UNC's reaction to the ANOA underscores this, with A.D. Bubba Cunningham, rather than promising to set things right, or promising to restore UNC's honor as Friday did, instead promised to fight to see that UNC was "treated fairly."

For two decades, possibly longer, this university brought in athletes who had little chance of succeeding academically and rather than helping them to catch up, created false classes so the university could take advantage of their physical talents before casting them aside. They certainly didn't care about treating them fairly.

It's a pity we've abandoned shame in the West because some shame would be useful about now in Chapel Hill.

*****

After seeing her post about transcripts of recorded conversations with UNC bigwigs coming soon, we poked around Mary Willingham's site a bit.

In this post, she suggests that the fraudulent classes began before Dean Smith retired. Among other things, this would mean that UNC's last coach unaffected by scandal was Tom Scott, who coached the Tar Heels from 1946-1952.