According to the NCAA, it is perfectly all right for student-athletes –don’t you just love that phrase? – to maintain their eligibility by taking paper courses that require nothing more from them than a paper that is conveniently written by a friend of the athletic department.
But take a free lunch or a ticket home to visit an ailing parent and the NCAA police force will nail you.
Wait. What? How is that possible?
In the strange world of the NCAA rules and regulations, apparently academic fraud is fine. That’s what paper courses amount to, outrageous fakery designed to appeal to athletes who can’t be bothered with studying and attending classes. There can be no more serious stain on the academic reputation of a college or university.
For years, those courses have been right there in plain sight, available in the curriculum of UNC’s African and Afro-American Studies Department, open invitations to easy credits for anyone who wanted or needed them. And therein lies the rub.
The NCAA concluded that because the courses were available to all students, they did not constitute a violation of the “special benefits’’ clause of the rulebook.
That is outrageous.
It is a slur on the otherwise fine reputation of the university, an admission that it apparently winks its eye sometimes when it comes to academics. And the fact that athletes are the majority of the students benefitting from this arrangement? Well that was merely a coincidence.
This scheme has gone on at Chapel Hill for nearly two decades and involved nearly 200 of these make-believe classes. And most of the students were athletes, sliding through the academic requirements of the university.
And this is OK?
The NCAA loves to suspend coaches and strip victories from programs it believes are suspect. The gumshoes spent four years investigating this North Carolina affair and all the while, UNC was collecting millions of dollars from its basketball and football programs. And when the NCAA decided to release its decision, it came on the day when Carolina was raising its latest championship banner.
That’s thumbing your nose and laughing in the face of the rules.
UNC‘s general counsel, Mark Merritt offered an explanation for the NCAA’s decision. “The fact that the courses did not meet our expectations doesn’t make them fraudulent,’’ he explained.
It doesn’t make them legitimate, either.
All around college basketball, there was a feeling that the NCAA would nail North Carolina. How could it not? It seemed like an open and shut case. It turned out to be something less.
In the middle of all this is basketball coach Roy Williams, who has a good ol’ boy image, loved by all in this part of Carolina’s Tobacco Road. Williams played the innocent,, delivering three national championships and eight Atlantic Coast Conference titles, while eschewing the tough language so many other coaches routinely use.
When things go wrong for the Tar Heels, Williams will occasionally express his frustration with an exclamation of “Dadgumit!!’’
Now, in the wake of the NCAA judgment on the North Carolina case, there are a lot of other coaches using stronger language than that.