There is a provision in Roy Williams’ contract at North Carolina – a provision in a section titled “termination by university for cause” – that describes the reasons the university could part ways with him.
Some of those reasons, according to the contract, are if he had knowledge of an NCAA violation and let it pass, or if he participated in a violation, or condoned one committed by a member of his staff. It’s a topic that’s relevant now given the findings of the recently released Wainstein report, and the question of how much Williams knew – or should have known – about paper classes that kept athletes eligible.
Williams on Wednesday at the ACC’s annual basketball media day addressed questions, once again, about how much he knew or should have known about those problem courses in the African- and Afro-American Studies Department. And he addressed a question about his confidence in the university supporting him through the duration of an NCAA investigation.
“If they fire me, it’s going to be because I didn’t win games,” said Williams, whose career winning percentage (.792) is the highest among active coaches with at least 20 years’ experience. “It’s not going to be because I for sure knowingly did something unethical.
“I don’t move my ball on the green when nobody’s watching.”
Williams went on for a short while, making golf analogies, defending his ethics, his character.
“So no, I don’t worry one second about my ethics,” he said, “or what can be done there. And the NCAA – I have never knowingly done anything that would even violate an attempt at the rule.”
It remains unclear what the NCAA will – or won’t – do to UNC in light of the investigation by Kenneth Wainstein, a former U.S. Justice Department official, which provided answers about a long-running academic and athletic scandal that involved hundreds of bogus classes and more than 3,000 students, nearly half of them athletes.
What is clear, though, are the facts and the questions they’ve created. Under Williams, men’s basketball players accounted for 167 enrollments in the paper classes, which featured no professor oversight, no classroom instruction and unusually high grades.
Deborah Crowder, an AFAM administrative assistant who retired in 2009, orchestrated what Wainstein has described as “the paper class scheme.” Crowder graded the papers and gave out grades – usually As or Bs – regardless of the quality of the work, Wainstein concluded.
When Williams arrived at UNC from Kansas in 2003, five men’s basketball players majored in AFAM. The next year, the season in which UNC won the 2005 national championship, 10 of his players majored in AFAM.
Wayne Walden, the men’s basketball academic counselor who followed Williams from Kansas to UNC, enrolled players in paper classes with the help of Crowder. Over time, according to Wainstein, Walden became suspicious of the classes, though he said he never passed his concerns onto Williams.
And gradually, the men’s basketball team’s enrollments in the paper classes declined. Williams told Wainstein, and has repeated publicly, that he was concerned by his players clustering in AFAM classes and that he preferred his players be enrolled in traditional lecture courses instead of independent studies.
“If I look back on it, of course you can say ‘Well maybe I should have done this, should have done that, should have done this or should not have done that,’” Williams said Wednesday. “If you ask me did I make a mistake in this, I’d say, ‘No.’”
Williams’ knowledge of the classes – or his lack of knowledge – was a primary story line Wednesday, where members of the national media came, in part, to question him about it. Wherever Williams went – radio interviews, television interviews, ones with newspaper and electronic media reporters – the questions followed.
His players received them, too – more questions about controversy. A season ago, UNC players had to answer question after question about the P.J. Hairston saga that stretched on for months. This time, the questions were about Williams and the fallout from the Wainstein report.
“It’s tough to watch him take shots from the media and be under the scrutiny he is under right now,” said Marcus Paige, the UNC junior guard who was voted the preseason conference player of the year. “ He’s one of the most upstanding and honest individuals I’ve ever been around. So that makes me feel comfortable, knowing that he tells us everything that he’s doing straight up.
“So I’m not really worried about what other people have to say. I know how great of a person he is.”
Williams, known for his displays of emotion, became emotional at times Wednesday. He spoke often of his love and admiration for UNC, the institution, and how both he and his wife, Wanda, graduated from there, and how his children graduated from there.
He said that the questions created by the Wainstein investigation, and its findings, wouldn’t hasten his retirement – that he wouldn’t allow it to chase him off.
“I want to be part of the solution,” Williams said.
And once again, he defended Walden, the former men’s basketball academic counselor who retired in 2009. As he did on Friday night, when he addressed the investigation for the first time, Williams said on Wednesday that Walden is one of the most ethical people he knows.
Walden, Wainstein concluded, never told Williams of his concern that Crowder was doing the grading in those paper classes – never relayed his overall suspicions that were was something off about those classes.
“You can accuse me of being naïve,” Williams said, “but I don’t think – truthfully – I don’t think you can go past that. But that’s my opinion. They’re like noses – everybody’s got one.”