McCants (updates below)

A few comments.

1) I have no reason to doubt, in broad terms, what McCants told ESPN. That he took fake classes is not debatable. As for whether he wrote his own papers, I suppose there is no way to “prove” that. But I think most people who aren’t UNC partisans have little difficulty accepting the plausibility of that claim. Such practices have been very widespread in big time athletics for a long time, at the high school and college levels.

2) Attempts to obscure the significance of McCants’ disclosures by arguing that “easy” college classes are part of the landscape of university life and that plenty of students like to take those, are disingenuous. These weren’t “easy” classes. They were fake – in a substantial number of them, no work (or attendance) was required particularly, it seems, for “premier” athletes. If this does not meet your definition of fraudulent, then there is simply no such thing as a fraudulent class.

3) Since January, Coach Williams has made numerous statements to the effect that he is out of the loop when it comes to the academic preparedness of his players. He has used the phrase “that’s not my world” or variants of it on several occasions. He also specifically told Andy Katz that it is much more difficult for him to monitor his players’ academic progress – and to be in touch with their professors – than was once the case. And yesterday he issued a flat denial of McCants’ claims. But two years ago, according to media reports, he told WFNZ radio in Charlotte about how much his program emphasizes the “academic side”  and said “we know what our kids are majoring in” and that “every day we’re in touch with those kids” with respect to their academic performance.

So, which is it? Is the basketball program fully on top of the “academic side,” or is the coaching staff out of the loop? And when Roy Williams walks into the home of a recruit, what does he tell the kid’s parents? That their son’s education is “not my world?”

4) Lots of folks are, not surprisingly, attacking McCants. McCants, his critics charge, was responsible for his own education. Therefore, he bears responsibility for having been a willing participant in the fraud. For argument’s sake, let’s grant that. But the charge is irrelevant. McCants’ complicity in his own non-education does not change the culpability of the university, including the athletic department, in perpetrating the fraud in order to keep athletes eligible to play. Prosecutors don’t only go after drug users. They go after dealers, too. Harder, in fact, as a general rule.

But let’s say it’s both true that McCants is solely responsible for his own education and that the coaches of a particular team – or the academic support system behind it – had no knowledge of what has emerged as a pervasive system of academic fraud. To return again to the recruiting of a player: How does that conversation with recruits and their parents go? The mother of a prospect expresses misgivings to Roy – she’s heard there has existed at UNC a fake curriculum, involving a significant number of classes that don’t require any attendance at all and, in some cases, in which athletes do zero academic work, while still receiving credit and good grades. How does Roy respond? “Ma’am, your son’s education is his responsibility, not mine. I am not aware of any such thing going on at UNC but, again, that’s not my world. You want to ask me about X’s and O’s, we can talk about that til the cows come home. But your son’s education? Sorry, that’s on him.”

Is that the message the coach wants to communicate?

5) It is a fact that the fake class system has been shut down. It is also a fact that the university has undertaken a series of efforts to tighten admissions standards and to provide better oversight of the athletes’ academic support system. There are many, therefore, who believe that all of this is just so much harping on the past, water under the bridge. Some believe this sincerely – they are tired of the whole story; they know the university has taken significant steps to ensure that no fake curriculum could again materialize and they are concerned that the endless focus on past improprieties here is only undermining the good works in which so many on this campus are engaged.

Let me promise you this, though. A very large number of UNC fans and boosters now rehearsing a version of this argument would be delirious with joy were it revealed that something similar had happened at Duke University between, say, 1990 and 2010. Those UNC partisans who are now so angry about the constant dredging up of the past would be, I am confident, poring over and reveling in every new detail about how Laettner, Hurley, Hill, Jayson Williams, etc., etc., had fraudulent classes on their transcripts. And if Coach K, upon the exposure of this system, were to issue a denial about ever having known about such a thing, the howls of derision emanating from Chapel Hill would be easily audible ten miles away in Durham.

There is, in other words, no larger principle underlying most of the angry denunciations of McCants. It’s just straight-up tribalism.

I am a long-time UNC season-ticket holder. I’ve spent a ridiculous proportion of my life investing emotionally in my teams, including UNC basketball. I find all of this very depressing. But when the stark truth is staring me in the face, I am not going to pretend I don’t see it.

Update: SI’s Andy Staples draws important connections between the O’Bannon lawsuit, whose trial is scheduled to begin tomorrow, and the UNC case. Staples argues that the NCAA has itself asserted that promoting academic integrity among its member schools is a core part of its mission. After all, college athletes’ standing as students is central to the distinction between them and professional athletes. Consequently, it is incumbent upon the NCAA, Staples writes, to investigate fully the UNC academic scandal, something it has not done:

Of course, the NCAA will argue that academics are essentially a “states’ rights” issue. Each school has wide latitude to design its own curriculum, and the university presidents who sit on the various NCAA councils aren’t keen on publicly horsewhipping their colleagues’ academic programs. Also, anyone who has attended a large public university such as North Carolina knows that any student — athlete or not — can made (sic) the academic experience as challenging or as easy as he or she chooses. That complicates matters for the NCAA, but when obvious cases of academic fraud get dropped in the organization’s lap, it probably should act on them if it intends to portray itself in court as a defender of academic integrity….

If academics actually matter to the people running the NCAA, this case will get investigated. But if all the NCAA actually cares about is whether players get a few thousand bucks above the value of their scholarships, it will be ignored as it has been for the past three years. And then we’ll know how honest the NCAA’s defense in the O’Bannon case really is.”

The NCAA has not launched any new investigations this year related to major infractions and has more or less acknowledged that its enforcement system is in need of fundamental overhaul. The multi-front attack on the organization, including growing rumblings that the power five conferences want much more autonomy, may also be further dampening the NCAA’s enthusiasm for going after a high profile program.

Further update: I caught a few minutes of Jonathan Coachman and Prim Siripipat on ESPN radio this afternoon, talking about McCants’ interview and some of Coach Williams’ response to it (last night, Jay Bilas interviewed Williams, who had eleven of his former players with him as a show of support). Coachman acknowledged that he was especially fond of Coach Williams, whom Coachman covered at the University of Kansas and treated Coachman extremely well. Coachman then offered every defense of Williams he could think of. He questioned McCants’ motives for telling tales out of school; he asserted that when you are a superstar coach like Roy –  a CEO of a big corporation, as Coachman put it – you can’t really be expected to know all the minutiae of what is going on in your program; he repeated Williams’ statement that he couldn’t know what the players were doing in every class; and he argued that players had to take personal responsibility for their courses and work, etc. Siripipat also questioned McCants’ motivation and didn’t understand why he would throw under the bus a coach and school that had done such wonderful things for him. She was, however, more open to the possibility that there were very serious transgressions related to his players academic standing and questioned whether Coach Williams could really have been *completely* unaware of those.

Two points:

1) It’s unsurprising that McCants’ motives are being called into question. Indeed, he may well have mixed motives for having coming forward. Maybe he does have some sour grapes about his career, his life, or whatever. But the motivation game swings both ways, doesn’t it? Doesn’t Roy Williams have every reason to deny these allegations? Doesn’t he have a legacy and a program at stake? Doesn’t UNC – which from day one of this scandal, dating back years, has probably been very nervous about that 2005 championship banner – have its own motives for conducting itself as it does?

There is no disinterested party here. I wouldn’t claim that McCants is. Neither is the coach, the athletic department or the university.

2) the “personal responsibility” line also cuts both ways. Sure, college students bear responsibility for their efforts, or lack thereof. But can you really argue with a straight face that the coach – the CEO of a major corporation, as Coachman described Roy – doesn’t bear any? That whatever happens on his watch is someone else’s fault, not his. Is that really what he’s getting paid so much money for, to be free from any accountability whatsoever for anything that happens in his program? Seriously? Williams has tried to have it both ways on this – he’s both argued that he runs a tight academic ship and that he can’t possibly know if it’s actually a very loose one.

What message is that sending about “personal responsibility” and “accountability” and all those other important life lessons that coach is trying to teach his players?

I want to ask a serious question: is it so hard to believe that Roy Williams has been a good mentor and coach to many and that, when faced with enormous pressure to win and an opportunity to cut corners, he took advantage? Especially in an environment where academic oversight was exceedingly weak and it was just so *easy* to skirt the rules?

 

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24 comments

  1. There’s another piece of this puzzle that bears recognizing: many student-athletes, particularly “elite” players headed for the NBA, are more than happy to cut whatever academic corners they can. It’s not like McCants was desparately asking for the opportunity to sequence a genome or investigate the history of representational aesthetics but was forced instead to sign up for bogus classes! That doesn’t absolve UNC of responsibility at all — there are all sorts of things our students would like that we don’t permit, and this ought to be one of them — but let’s not imagine that there was expressed demand for more serious academic work that was foiled.

    1. Andy,

      Welcome aboard!

      McCants himself more or less acknowledged that he was happy to have the academic corner cutting. So, I don’t think that’s in dispute here. I do think it’s entirely plausible that what a 19-year old thought was a sweet deal, a 29 year old might have some regrets about. In any event, I don’t think the general thrust of these conversations about big time college sports and academic corruption start from the premise that the athletes are hungry for a real education they’re being denied. Most commentators assume they don’t care at all. That some have expressed (what I regard as) poignant regrets about how, looking back, they were short-changed is to be taken more seriously than has typically been the case. Your framing also suggests that it’s the athletes demanding easy classes and the institution reluctantly acceding to their demands. I don’t buy that at all.

      1. Certainly true on both counts. I just think the framing on the part of certain critics claiming a ‘denied real education’ (ahem) implies the athletes were seeking that real education at the time, which I don’t think is the case. But in no way does that excuse the fact that the university, through some group of personnel, (apparently) provided the opportunity to fulfill their short-term desires while undermining their long-term interests and the university’s academic integrity.

      2. I am responding more to andrewperrin’s reply than to your comment. First, UNC should not be recruiting players who “are not seeking a real education.” And if one slips by, as occasionally will happen, UNC should cancel the athlete’s scholarship and drop him from the program… not put him in non-existent classes to keep him eligible, which is what UNC has been doing for two decades or more. In a way, I almost feel sorry for perrin and other uber-loyal Tar Heels. But they have kept digging this hole since the fraud was first exposed… and they keep on digging. Sorry, andrew, give back the ill-gotten banners, wins and championships. Then people will believe you really mean business. And that brings me to your reference to “the university’s academic integrity.” Sorry sir, that ship has sailed. There is no integrity left among the administration at UNC-CH.

      3. George: while I agree entirely in principle that UNC should not be admitting athletes who don’t want a real education, in practice this is the norm at EVERY SINGLE D1 institution. The problem is that we allowed particularly outrageous workarounds to cater to that desire, which we absolutely should not have.

        I am not an “uber loyalist” – just somebody who actually pays attention to the evidence rather than jumping to conclusions. And the evidence does not support your knee-jerk indictment of the entire administration.

      4. George – I’m not sure how realistic it is to say UNC should drop any student athletes not seeking a real education. I believe some of the reforms put in place will now help prevent a McCants-type from getting through initially, but once a disinterested SA inevitably slips through, how would UNC be expected to identify them as academically dispassionate w/out any doubt? It’s not likely an athlete would jeopardize their scholarship by telling the coaches he/she doesn’t care about academics and I’d imagine many students make higher grades in classes they find interesting and lower grades in classes they dislike or with subjects in which they lack an aptitude. I’ll conceed that in McCants’ case there was a red flag: his now infamous “UNC is jail” comments. But if accounts are accurate he was booted from practice and soon thereafter said his comments were misinterpreted and apologized. Not sure any school would have revoked a student’s scholarship for that anyway, though, so to expect UNC to seems kind of silly.

  2. Jonathan–your last point is spot on. Williams is probably a good man and good coach who, when confronted with a pre-created eligibility system that was SO easy to use and abuse, just went along. Because–why not? He had “cover” from that elaborate academic support system, he had deniability for so many reasons (“my players did the work assigned them”), and the system worked like a dream. High APR’s, no player ever declared ineligible, and lots of free time in the spring semesters to focus on the important stuff. What is so disturbing to me about the aftermath of the McCants story is how non-existent the inclination to honesty really is. It’s clear that Williams and all those players have reflexively denied that anyone ever did anything wrong, could ever have thought of doing anything wrong. They feel they must. The power of UNC basketball capital is so enormous, and the players are so convinced that their fates are tied to the UNC brand, that they do what the provost did: denounce the truth-teller.

    1. From the statements issued by the athletes supporting Roy Williams that I have read, I have yet to see any specifically say that nobody did anything wrong or thought of doing anything wrong. They simply supported Roy Williams and added that their educational experiences at UNC were nothing like those described by McCants. One is certainly free to assume, as you have, that all of the other SAs that played under Roy Williams (which includes SAs that played under Roy at KU, BTW, and are not tied to the UNC brand whatsoever) are lying to keep the integrity of said brand. The alternative, though, is to believe that the 20-something and counting SAs that have spoken in support of Roy Williams are painting a more accurate picture against the same McCants that, in the past along with his father, made clear that he had grievances against Roy Williams and the alleged comments Williams made to NBA scouts that supposedly tanked McCants’ NBA career. I don’t believe this means McCants’ statements should be ignored, but I think it should still call into question his motives and possibly his credibility.

  3. So why is UNC so adverse to the truth? They have run from it for so long now. Is it the only thing they know?

    Everyone knows what went on at UNC. Why doesn’t leadership step up and say, yes this happened….no, we didn’t enroll regular students in 400 level AFAM classes prior to entering school like we did for the athletes like Marvin Austin. Yes, this was about keeping athletes eligible across at least 18 sports (according to one partial report to SACS).

    UNC has long touted itself as all about the academics, now apparently the coach doesn’t know what a book looks like. And here’s a news flash for the UNC folks, if THIS coach loses his credibility…it also casts tremendous doubt on the basketball coach when this whole scandal started…a coach who carried a pretty lofty graduation rate into the homes of prospective athletes.

    For the life of me, I don’t know why UNC has risked their integrity, their dignity and the reputation of all of those that have come before…only to hide behind a transparent wall of lies and obfuscation. They had told us how great they were for so long, some of us had actually started believing it.

    Where are the adults? Are they all afraid of being crucified? Why hasn’t the entire faculty risen up and said “stop humiliating us, enough is enough”? Am I wrong for thinking they’d stand up and demand accountability? Four years of history says I am.

  4. I enjoyed reading this blog entry and think the author makes good points. To respond specifically to the Further update section regarding motives and personal responsibility, I agree: both sides have motives of course. Maybe the Wainstein investigation will shed more light on specific details, but until then it’s the word of one student athlete against the word of Roy Williams and more than just a few other student athletes. And until there are more facts to validate or invalidate one side or the other I’m going to lean towards the word of Roy Williams as he has built up a great amount of credibility during his career. The same can’t be said for Rashad McCants. Roy Williams also has responsibility as the head coach to know what is going on academically with each athlete he coaches, but I’m not sure it’s fair to say he should have been looking out for abnormalities with each athlete’s grades back in 2005, a time long before this mess was on everyone’s radar. At some point he has to trust that the institution is offering legitimate classes and at that time there was no reason to believe that UNC wasn’t.

    1. It’s the word of one athlete AND his transcript, which corroborates his story, against a bunch of athletes and a coach and, in fact, a university who have yet to provide evidence to back up their vague assertions. Let’s see those transcripts, gentlemen, and decide for ourselves just how unlike McCants’s your educational experiences were.

      Good blog post, and must be tough as hell to write for a lifelong UNC fan.

      1. I don’t get this “the truth is in the transcripts” statement. We know they (UNC athletes) took AFAM classes, we know this because Willingham gave her files to Dan Kane and he wrote an article about it. However, how does this show violations occured? The players, and others, in those classes all did the work that was required of them…even if it was a single research paper. You would need the NCAA to step in and declare those independent study classes to be too easy at the college level and throw out the credits. I don’t see this happening. Much like the 3-year Sociology degree at Duke and the online courses for TAMU football players, these courses will not be touched by the NCAA.

      2. @kevin, exactly. I don’t see the value added in McCants’ teammates releasing their transcripts. We already know most were enrolled in these classes and we know that *some* of those classes were aberrant. McCants’ interview didn’t shed any new light on those issues. What he did allege, though, is that Roy Williams not only was aware of these classes, but took advantage of the system and “swapped” at least one of McCants’ classes. There’s been no evidence to show Williams knew anything about the irregular AFAM classes except for the word of Rashad. McCants also alleges that his teammates had their papers written for them. Not a one of his teammates have backed up that claim and, in fact, have said just the opposite: that they did their own work and worked hard to earn their grades. So, again, we’re left with the word of Rashad McCants, which seems to only hold value for those with preconceived opinions of UNC guilt these days. And I wonder, of those people, which ones would have found Rashad to be credible prior to his OTL interview?

  5. I have a few comments/questions.

    In part (1) you mention that there is no way to prove whether or not he wrote the papers,
    then in part (2) you say he participated in fraudulent courses because he did not write
    the papers. Is this really what you meant to say?

    In part (3), regarding Roy Williams’ comments, could it not be that “we” he meant UNC,
    in particular those who are employed by UNC to monitor the athletes course work, and not
    himself? I seriously doubt any coach monitors their students academic life, universities
    hire people to do this.

    Part (5), I think you meant to say 1991 and 2010 (two years in which Duke won the title).
    Also, these questions have come up about Duke. Just go look at all the players who’ve
    majored in Sociology, and the serious questions surrounding that. I agree, UNC fans would
    be all over this if it were Duke on the receiving end. This is what fans do. However, you
    do not expect misleading reports, some even false, coming from reporters and media. I think
    this is the most disgusting part of all of this. You have people who are willing to
    sacrifice their word and integrity to get what they want, whatever that may be. I think
    Mary Willingham started out with a good cause, she didn’t like to see athletes not getting
    the education they should have. Then she somehow got lost in all the publicity, and now is
    willing to throw those under the bus (athletes) simply to get more attention. I think
    Hausfield/O’Bannon recognized this and decided to remove her from their case. But it doesn’t
    stop with Mary, Sara Ganim, Paul Barrett, Dan Kane, and others, have all written articles
    presenting inaccurate material; either they’re too lazy to check their sources stories (which
    I seriously doubt) or they’re trying to push their agenda, regardless if it’s factual or not.

    You question whether or not Williams is lying in your updated portion. He could be, I have
    no idea. However, when you have people at two different universities, sports personalities,
    and those around the sport all saying they believe him, then I tend to think he’s telling
    the truth.

    In your conclusion you say:

    “I want to ask a serious question: is it so hard to believe that Roy Williams has been a
    good mentor and coach to many and that, when faced with enormous pressure to win and an
    opportunity to cut corners, he took advantage? Especially in an environment where academic
    oversight was exceedingly weak and it was just so *easy* to skirt the rules?”

    This is EXACTLY why universities inform their coaches to stay out of the academic decisions
    of their athletes.

    1. As someone who is a coach in college athletics, it is unreasonable to think Roy Williams is ignorant of his student’s academic lives. He has three assistant coaches, a strength & conditioning coach, and a director of basketball operations to look after 15 students. Our staff of two conducts bi-weekly academic meetings with all 36 of our players. We have every one of our players class schedule on file. We receive mid-semester and semester grade reports. Keeping your players in good academic standing is in your best interest as a coach, and it is foolish to think that Williams is somehow unaware of what his players are doing in class.

      1. Cory – I don’t think whether Roy Williams is/was aware or unaware of his players’ academic standing is in question here. Williams stated in his interview with Jay Bilas that he would be notified if a student were making bad grades and in danger of being academically ineligible and also if a student made the Dean’s List. What is unreasonable, I think, is to expect Roy Williams to somehow know if someone else was writing Rashad McCants’ papers or if the classes Rashad took were irregular. It isn’t the responsibility of the head coach or his assistant coaches to verify a student is doing his/her own work and whether the classes they are taking are legitimate. If his players are making the grades, why should he have any reason to doubt they are working hard to do so? Should a coach just automatically assume that if a player is doing well something must be wrong? In 2005, there was no reason for Roy Williams, or anyone on his staff, to believe there was a problem with the AFAM department and some of it’s classes. Are you saying that if you were in Roy’s shoes back in 2005, a time before any of this scandal was on anyone’s radar, you would’ve have had someone on your staff somehow checking to make sure a student was doing his/her own work? And if so, how exactly would you have accomplished that?

      2. Neil – I only meant to challenge Kevin’s assertion that coaches do not monitor their players’ academic lives. If what I said was already understood, then I apologize for having nothing more substantial to add than what everyone else here has already contributed.

        If I were compensated as well as Roy Williams, I doubt I would turn myself in based solely on unprovable, though assumed, suspicions. There may not be a smoking gun in the form of memos, emails, or other documents that show Williams was in direct knowledge of academic fraud. But everything McCant’s said lines up with what is frequently gossiped about amongst people who work in college athletics. The coaches may not know the specifics (nor do they want to), but it is certainly understood that they won’t have any issue getting their recruits into school, regardless of the school’s academics standards, and that school’s academic advisers and tutors will be “taking care of them” once enrolled.

      3. Cory – You being in the thick of the collegiate coaching world certainly gives you more perspective than I have on this debate, but these recent assertions by McCants along with the timing of it all just seems suspicious to me. I’m sure there is some corner cutting/cheating going on almost everywhere and UNC is no exception. And I also realize Roy and his players would probably not admit it even if they knew about or participated in the cheating, but, again, as it is right now: Rashad’s word vs Williams’ (& many more) word. Journalists, players, NBA scouts & NBA players, etc. that have been around McCants question him. Maybe there’s something out there, but I’ve yet to read anything that questions Williams’ morality or credibility…and in fact many in the college basketball realm have spoken up in support. If McCants is really all of a sudden concerned about a real education for SAs then he needs to give his story to Wainstein and await the findings. Otherwise this is all just a side show.

  6. Let’s hear from the professors who taught those four Spring AFAM courses. I think we’ll learn a lot about McCants and his teammates. We’ll learn even more about who gets nervous at the thought of this.

  7. Neil, you said that “Maybe there’s something out there, but I’ve yet to read anything that questions Williams’ morality or credibility…and in fact many in the college basketball realm have spoken up in support.” Perhaps you should look at the transcripts for a clue. It has been widely reported that five players on the 2005 team took 39 of the AFAM classes, most of which never met. Let’s see who took what and let them explain how they went to non-existent classes. Further we know that Roy had people checking to see that all of “his boys” went to class. He has said so himself. Perhaps he can explain where those non-existent classes were held.

    1. George – Let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly. You are saying that the “transcripts”, which haven’t been released yet by the way, show Roy had/has poor morality, credibility or both? OTL got its hand on Rashad’s *unofficial* transcript, but I don’t recall OTL showing a full version of it; they only showed highlighted snippets. As of this morning no other players have released their transcripts. So, I guess you are referring to the AFAM enrollment data Mary Willingham leaked to the N&O? There have been some questions raised (despite the media mostly ignoring them) about some of that enrollment data, but I’ll roll down this road for now and assume it is all 100% correct.

      Yeah, I still don’t see how that provides the much needed “clue” I apparently need. If certain AFAM classes were toted as independent studies or as classes with infrequent meetings, then it seems strange to expect the class monitors to throw a flag and inform the coaches that a class wasn’t meeting. Their duty, I assume, is to make sure a player attends when/if the class convenes. So, Roy should’ve had the class monitors alerting the coaching staff if the monitor deemed it irregular that a class wasn’t meeting? Seems like there would be many within academics or on the academic administration payroll that would have the responsibility of flagging irregular classes before a basketball coach and his staff.

      So, I still believe it is unreasonable to expect that in 2005, before AFAM was a blip on anyone’s radar, Roy would have any idea that anyone on his basketball team was cutting corners. Why is Williams expected to have suspected that his players were getting anything but the top notch education the university claimed it was giving? The university had not, as of 2005, identified any irregularities with AFAM. The scandal with AFAM was horrible; there’s no sugar coating that, but I just don’t see why, with all the other responsibilities a head coach and his staff have at a big-time University like UNC, they would be expected to don a detective’s hat and go poking around for abnormalities. They received the players’ grades, knew their schedules, met with tutors and class monitors, etc., … if none of those sources flagged anything strange, why is Roy Williams culpable?

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