The subject here is the mounting academic scandal at the University of North Carolina, but first, a word about another cheating story.
When they're catching a kid cheating in the National Scrabble Tournament, you know the culture has entered the bloodstream of the nation. This kid, unidentified because he was a minor, dropped a couple of blank tiles on the floor and got caught. Read more about it here.
He wasn't among the first tier of Scrabble contenders, and I know that without reading deep into the story. How? I couldn't even pull that blank-tile trick with my kids. As far as cheating attempts go, that is W-E-A-K. Triple-letter score on the "K," with any luck.
Which brings us to North Carolina, because such a scheme might well have worked in Chapel Hill, at least if it was the NCAA doing the monitoring.
The NCAA, in a two year investigation, found ties to agents, academic misconduct and a general failure to monitor on the part of the school. It handed out scholarship reductions in football, probation, and a bowl ban.
But even as all that was going on, rampant cheating apparently continued, with an internal investigation now having turned up grades changed for no reason and even the forging of professors' signatures. And that's when there was any actual instruction going on, which, according to reports, might not have been often. The fraud is confined to a single department -- the African and Afro-American Studies program. And school officials say it is limited to a couple of rogue advisors and faculty there.
Yet more than half the students who received bogus grades were athletes, a third of them football players, and some of them basketball players.
Then, last weekend, a document appearing to be a transcript of Julius Peppers appeared for a time on UNC's website. The university would not confirm its authenticity. If it were legitimate, Peppers would have received a D or an F in 11 of the 27 courses shown with a letter grade.
And many of his courses, of course, were in the department in question.
The NCAA has indicated when the story has flared up in recent months that it remains an internal matter for UNC.
At what point, however, does the NCAA admit that it botched the original investigation, ruled too soon, and would have overlooked a far more serious scandal had media and other sources not stayed with the story.
This is a bad NCAA habit. Get enough for a "conviction" and get out. If the NCAA is serious about enforcement, it needs to do more. It needs to get at the roots, instead of punishing on the fringes.
In reaching an historic takedown of Penn State, NCAA president Mark Emmert signaled what appeared to be a new era of toughness in dealing with serious violations.
Now, he's faced with a fundamental problem within another iconic institution.
If the NCAA is serious about cleaning up the acts of its membership, it needs to be at least as thorough as the media covering the events. I don't want to hear about resources. The NCAA has great resources at its disposal.
But when a mess like this one happens right under the nose of an NCAA investigation, you have to wonder if NCAA enforcement has the stomach to keep going after its glamor programs. When it was already looking into the school's academics, to not find a problem this widespread raises serious questions.
I know agents are a bad influence in college sports. But no agent ever did as much damage to a kid as a professor who sat them in a classroom and did not teach them.
It's easy to rail against a pedophile. That's an easy message to send. But what the NCAA does, or doesn't do, with this continued North Carolina scandal will send a message just as revealing.
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