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.
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?