Shoop: UNC’s paper-class issue about dollars – not just grades

Marcia Mount Shoop is a theologian, minister and author. Her latest book, “Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports” explores some of the most pressing issues in sports today. Her husband, John, was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at North Carolina from 2007 until 2011.

Things are not always as they seem.

That could be the University of North Carolina’s riff on the state motto now that special investigator Kenneth Wainstein has spoken. Listen and you will hear the familiar drum beat that has been UNC’s cadence since the NCAA came to town – How could this happen to us? We have to get rid of them.

What seemed to be an effort to “get to the bottom” of this “terrible mark” on the “proud history” of UNC, the school’s response to the Wainstein Report is another example of its avoidance. Instead of having the courage to tackle systemic issues, more “bad individuals” have been banished.

UNC does have an integrity problem. Contrary to what Chancellor Carol Folt wants us to feel when she says “there is a clear distinction between the then, and the now,” the problem has not been lopped off with the recent firings. The integrity problem remains and it has two four letter names: “NCAA” and “RACE.”

As a member of the NCAA, UNC joins its peers in profound integrity challenges. The NCAA’s system of eligibility and enforcement gives birth to things like paper classes, denial of due process, nefarious punishments and the creation of a different class of student/revenue generator who is restricted from benefitting from their labor.

In our experience, most athletes are hard-working students who want to learn and take care of their schoolwork in ways we can all respect. Some of these same athletes were caught up in the NCAA investigation for deeply troubling reasons.

Athletics do not bring ways to cut academic corners to campus. Stats tell us from 75 to 90 percent of college students admit to cheating, especially the best students. Eligibility for revenue athletes only raises the stakes. It is about dollars, not just grades.

Being in compliance with the NCAA, a stated priority for UNC, is a vortex of moral conflict and violations of values the university says it holds dear. This morally fraught partnership with the NCAA only exacerbates the long-standing struggles that UNC and other institutions have with race.

Racialized biases and mentalities of privilege are stitched throughout this scandal for UNC. Why was it so easy for every level of the institution to look the other way for two decades with these paper classes? It secretly resonates with many white academics that African-American studies wouldn’t be as rigorous as the other departments. And the same resonance reverberates through the quiet agreement many whites have that black athletes aren’t capable of taking “real” classes anyway.

Every player involved in the NCAA football investigation was black. The ease with which they were assumed to be guilty, denied due process and punished was chilling to witness. Why is it so easy for universities to treat revenue athletes like a different class of people?

During the football investigation at UNC in 2010-11, head coach Butch Davis told John that he had gotten word from the university administration that they wanted to “change the image of the football program” and stop recruiting “inner city black kids.” I was told that the problem with UNC athletics was that middle-aged fans could not relate to the black athletes who “flash gang signs” on the field.

Integrity is the state of being undivided. Universities with revenue sports programs are divided. The most disturbing divide is not about academic integrity. It is about justice. The integrity of UNC will not be restored until the soul of the University as the flagship school for all citizens of North Carolina is resuscitated.