Weekend Update (more UNC)

There’s been a blizzard of commentary since the Wainstein report dropped on Wednesday.

Flagging a few:

1) Brian Rosenberg, the president of Macalester College, says UNC should lose its accreditation:

I have read many responses to the report of corruption at Chapel Hill. Some argue that those at the center of the activities were simply trying to help at-risk students, to which my response is that awarding credits and grades without providing instruction is not “help” in any sense that I can accept. In the case of student athletes, I see it as closer to exploitation for the benefit of the university. Some argue that this behavior is widespread among institutions with highly visible Division I sports programs and therefore should provoke no particular surprise or outrage.

I hope that this last claim is untrue. If it is, however, the only way to alter such behavior is to respond with force and clarity when it is uncovered. Reducing the number of athletic scholarships at Chapel Hill, or vacating wins, or banning teams from postseason competition, is in each case a punishment wholly unsuitable to the crime. The crime involves fundamental academic integrity. The response, regardless of the visibility or reputation or wealth of the institution, should be to suspend accredited status until there is evidence that an appropriate level of integrity is both culturally and structurally in place.

Anything less would be dismissive of the many institutions whose transcripts actually have meaning.

There are a couple of things to quibble with here. One, the fact remains that the vast majority of UNC graduates have transcripts that do have meaning. Two, the university has taken institutional steps to ensure that this kind of thing could not repeat itself. Nevertheless, It’s noteworthy that this is coming from a college president and, it seems safe to assume, is a fairly widely shared sentiment. Incidentally, this is a context in which it certainly *is* appropriate to emphasize that this scandal has meaning beyond athletics. Rosenberg is obviously not trying to rationalize the conduct of beloved teams. Instead, he’s taking aim at the larger institutional taint that the corrupting temptations of big time sports can engender.

2) Luke Decock, the excellent columnist for the Raleigh News and Observer, uses a light touch to raise pressing questions about what Roy Williams knew and when he knew it.

According to the report, Williams and assistant coach Joe Holladay were concerned about clustering in a single major and the coaches wanted to make sure players were free to choose their own majors and weren’t being steered toward African and Afro-American Studies – an explanation Williams repeated Friday night.

But in 2012, when Williams was asked about the decline in enrollments, he said players may have decided on their own not to take them. Since the logic Williams offered in the Wainstein Report and again Friday night was perfectly reasonable, why not be more forthcoming in 2012?

Williams argued Friday that his arguments were materially the same – “It’s all the same answer, we let kids choose what they want to choose” – but that’s an oversimplification at best.

Then there’s the case of Walden, the academic adviser Williams brought from Kansas after he decided longtime basketball adviser Burgess McSwain had become too close to the athletes. McSwain had been funneling players to Crowder’s phony classes and Walden would eventually do the same, as noted in the report, over time becoming aware some of the classes were not legitimate.

Williams said again Friday that Walden never passed that knowledge along to Williams or Holladay, but the question will linger of how Williams’ hand-picked academic adviser could know about the scam without passing that info along.

As I’ve written before, Williams also said in 2012 that he and his staff were on top of his players’ academics “every day,” a far cry from what Williams has asserted repeatedly in the past few months. Decock is playing it more subtly here, but for the columnist of what is, in essence, the hometown paper to be raising these questions is significant.

3) The more I read, the more I am inclined to think that the NCAA is going to come down hard. As I wrote on Thursday, the question of what authority the NCAA *should* have merits debate, but only as a matter of principle. Not because one wants to see one’s own school avoid sanction. Regardless, I don’t think the NCAA is going to close up shop in the next six months. And the pressure on the organization to impose serious penalties on UNC will be significant. The NCAA has punished schools for academic improprieties before. And Gerald Gurney, who has studied the history of academic misconduct in collegiate athletics, says UNC’s transgressions are the Wayne Gretzky of such misdeeds – the school has smashed all previous records.

That’s going to be hard to ignore.

4) Tacking this on – from John Infante, an expert on NCAA enforcement issues. Infante says that linking specific athletes to academic fraud may be complicated and that this is relevant for the NCAA’s efforts to impose punishments on UNC.

However, on the all-important question of institutional control, Infante says there is no ambiguity:

For a charge of lack of institutional control however, the degree of athletic department involvement is vital. Imagine an alternate reality where the UNC athletic department was completely unaware of the true nature and purpose of the paper courses.2 That this was nothing more than academic advisors suggesting easy courses to athletes. In that case, an charge of lack of institution control would be tantamount to saying the athletic department is responsible for exercising institutional control over an academic unit.

That is exactly what happened though and why a charge of lack of institutional control is so clear cut. Because of the poor oversight, athletics staff members were able to exert far too much influence over the AFAM department. Specific instances include the emails requesting certain grades, the special course arrangement for athletes, the refusal to enroll some athletes in the paper courses without a referral from an academic advisor and, most egregious, the continuation of the paper courses after Crowder’s retirement at the instance of the football academic advisors.

This is such a slam dunk case of lack of institutional control that I believe it does not even need the underlying academic fraud violation. Such a case is essentially unprecedented save the Penn State case and that was exceptional in many other ways. But it is warranted here. The NCAA cannot allow an athletic department to have the type of sway over the academic functions of the university that UNC’s did.

(my bold)

Infante says that new rules on repeat offenders (a status that would not apply to UNC) and the fact that UNC has not been guilty of any such violations since these rules went into effect in 2012, would likely result in UNC receiving lesser penalties (in other words, not some version of the so-called “death penalty.” But those penalties, according to Infante, could still include, among other things: lengthy probation, loss of scholarships and vacating of records. Regarding the latter, this could bear directly on the 2005 men’s national championship basketball team. In some ways, taking a banner down, though it’s symbolic in one sense, might be the harshest blow of all. First, because no previous NCAA Division I basketball champion has ever before had to take down a banner. And second because, as anyone who has ever been to a UNC basketball game knows, the school’s basketball championships are an undeniable part of its mythology and identity.


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