The recent UNC response to the NCAA allegations concerning its academic scandal is most troubling. The University continues to shirk responsibility for a “loss of institutional control” despite 20 years of bogus classes which required little or no attendance by hundreds of athletes who enrolled in them. Furthermore, University employees consistently provided inappropriate assistance for term papers which often constituted the only academic requirement for these sham classes.
UNC officials have long sought to concentrate blame for the scandal on lower-level employees working most directly with the athletes. So far no upper-level administrator has accepted direct responsibility for any part of the saga. More recently, top administrators have continued to deflect the blame for the widespread corruption to the women’s basketball program and Coach Sylvia Hatchell. However, the preponderance of the evidence has little to do with women’s basketball and everything to do with long-standing administrative failures to properly supervise University employees, athletic programs and academic requirements.
UNC was fortunate to have a prescient president in Bill Friday. This giant of an academic leader worked tirelessly on the Knight Commission and elsewhere in a valiant but vain effort to reform big-time college athletics.
He told us that big money was corrupting our universities as control slipped away from presidents and trustees. As it turned out, corruption already had taken hold at UNC while he was alive. Athletics had trumped academics and ethical administrative behavior.
There are many now well-known twists to this scandal. One example: Rashad McCants was a starter on a national champion Tar Heel basketball team. He has openly admitted attending bogus classes where University staff wrote assignments for him. It is important to note that he would never have been on the basketball floor for the Tar Heels without this academic corruption.
Coach Dean Smith like President Friday set a high standard for personal integrity. Current University officials would do well to emulate these standards now. I believe Coach Smith would voluntarily surrender the 2005 national championship. Nobody cared for or defended his players more than Coach Smith. However, above all, he had common sense and decency. Were he alive, he would prod University officials to finally do the right thing.
The UNC administration is still practicing shameful avoidance in its tepid response to the NCAA. No one should take its commitment to reform and redemption seriously until UNC vacates its 2005 championship. The sacred memories of Coach Smith and President Friday demand it. The integrity of the University depends on it.
William C. Crawford is a writer and photographer living in Winston Salem. He taught at the UNC School of Social Work.