CRAWFORD | North Carolina's Williams 'sad' over scandal, but it' - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | North Carolina's Williams 'sad' over scandal, but it's not nearly enough

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It was classic Roy Williams. A little emotion, a down-home story, some Carolina pride.

But it wasn't dadgum enough. Williams paused at one point Friday to regain his composure when answering questions about the academic scandal that has rocked the University of North Carolina. It was perhaps the one time that the realization of the magnitude of these transgressions appeared to show itself in his remarks.

For 18 years, North Carolina was cheating. As these things do, it started out small, but snowballed into "paper classes," which, frankly, is too nice a term for what was going on at North Carolina. They were fictitious classes. There was no teaching, no learning, no work. There was no accountability. And it was aided and abetted by many in athletics, no doubt more than the nine who have lost their jobs so far. It was cheating.

In the coming weeks, no doubt, we'll hear about how it was only a blip in the academic records of many, that even with bogus courses, athletes who went through North Carolina still were subject to more academic rigor than athletes at many other schools. All of that may well be true. But it doesn't matter.

Here's what we likely will see: The NCAA men's basketball championship banners from 1993, 2005 and 2009 removed from the Dean Dome, and the championships vacated. Possibly, the NCAA women's basketball championship from 1994 could be vacated. North Carolina should be compelled to repay NCAA tournament proceeds.

Look at it this way: If a single invalidated SAT score at Memphis could cause a national runner-up season to be stricken from the record, how much more should violations by several individuals be punished, even from a national championship team? We don't know the individuals involved. But if they were, there can be no debate that the championships they won cannot be allowed to stand.

In addition to the coming sanctions, there will be the exhausting task of reviewing every academic record involved, both athlete and non-athlete, to determine the severity of the effects of those bogus classes on transcripts, grades, eligibility in the case of athletics and graduation in every event.

It's a mess. And it's more than the school's heels that now have been tarred.

Talking with the Associated Press, Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education who studies cheating, said, "I think the existence of fake classes and automatic grades -- you might say an athlete track, where essentially you might as well not have the university at all -- I think that's pretty extreme."

Then he added, "I hope it's pretty extreme."

That's a rather flimsy hope. Nobody knows the extent of academic maneuvering that keeps athletes eligible and on the field for College Sports Inc. But if you believe that an independent audit of transcripts around college athletics wouldn't turn up crooked and creative counterparts at a fair number of schools around the nation, you're kidding yourself.

It is nothing new. Indiana professor Murray Sperber wrote about it in his book Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education. That was all the way back in 2001. He said that the net effect of big-time sports was that it turned its undergraduate programs, at least where sports are involved, into vocational schools, with the athlete as part-university employee, in practice, and part-student.

One story Sperber likes to tell is of the first-ever college sports event, a boat race between Yale and Harvard on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire in 1852. It was sponsored by the Boston-Concord-Montreal Railroad, so already there were corporate forces at play. And scholars who have studied it since have found that a number of rowers on both sides were not registered students at the school, or were former students.

Cheating was there from the start.

"It's a very sad time for me as a guy that works at the University of North Carolina, that went to school here, was an assistant coach here. If you cut me open (blue) is the color I bleed," Williams told reporters. "We made some mistakes, for a long time and it's a very, very said time for us that we're going through. Our job is to try to do the best we can right now. Try to focus on the next day and do a better job. I'm very proud of the way that this university is going to bounce back."

I heard a lot of sadness from Williams. But the only anger that came through was from parts of the report he felt were untrue.

"It was said in that report, too, that Roy Williams said (to academic advisors) that your job is to keep your guys eligible," Williams said. "That meeting never took place. Never took place. I never had that kind of meeting and I never said anything like that and we can never find the interview that it was said in. And we've looked, because that insulted my integrity. I've never had that kind of meeting and would never make that kind of statement. It didn't happen."

By all indications, Williams saw something he didn't like, and began to steer his basketball players away from it, though perhaps not entirely. He said he approves of the current college sports arrangement, whereby coaches are, my words, cheerleaders of their players' academic priorities. They encourage. They accommodate. At one point, Williams referenced, "Every team I've ever coached, I've had players wave at me as they're leaving practice to go to study sessions. Not just to take a test, but to go to study sessions."

A wave and a prayer probably isn't good enough. In one breath, Williams says academics is the most important thing, in the next, he says his main worry is "trying to figure out how to box out better."

Williams did in this instance, I'm convinced, what just about any conscientious coach would do when faced with the suspicions that he had. He steered his players away, but let the academic advising side handle things while he focused on the admittedly time-consuming tasks of being a national-caliber college basketball coach. If you think your coach would've done anything different, I'm not so sure.

In the end, this report found Williams not culpable in anything that happened.

But neither is he a victim. These coaches make it their business to know minute details about the teams they coach and the teams they play. They can tell you what percentage of the time the opposing point guard scores when he goes to his left. They know what percentage of passes a team completes when a specific position goes in motion. If they want to know something, they know it. The football coaches got a power-point presentation on this whole fraudulent setup, for goodness' sake.

This academic business, they don't want to know. Nor does a vocal segment of the public want to know. The Raleigh News & Observer reporter who worked this story, Dan Kane, received death threats credible enough that at least twice the paper had security dispatched to his home. Kane was dogged in the toughest kind of reporting -- done against the brick wall of academic privacy.

Nobody wants to hear it. But universities need to take notice.

And the NCAA needs to act.

For once, people on both sides of the “pay the players” movement agree. The talking heads who spend hours bashing the NCAA for its stand on amateurism now want a show of muscle from the organization on academics, ignoring that greed in the system is in part responsible for this fraud. The Connecticut basketball team was banned from the postseason for a year for failing to meet NCAA academic requirements, yet when the Huskies won the NCAA Tournament a year later and Shabazz Napier got the microphone in his hands and said, defiantly, “this is what happens when you ban us,” the NCAA all of a sudden was the bad guy, starving its players and asking that they make minimal academic progress.

You want to make sure people take the academic side seriously? Give them a test before they can play in the NCAA Tournament, or a bowl game. Everybody takes the same one. You pass, you play. Make public an aggregate list of courses taken by players every semester. There are steps that could be taken without unduly infringing on the rights of students to academic privacy.

The proliferation of money in college sports is a separate issue, but not completely. ESPN is in the business of pouring money into the college sports machine, and many of its voices have become the most vocal critics of the NCAA and advocates for funneling more of that money to the players.

That's fine. It's easy to argue for that. Guys like me make money off this system. It makes us all feel better for players to get a share. I've argued that athletes should be able to make money off their likeness and other outside income. But you either want a strong NCAA or you don't. And you have to be ready for the repercussions of money flowing through the system.

Let's talk about root cause. Let's talk about the effects of the NCAA and its conferences chasing money without shame for decades. If athletics weren't so important to North Carolina — financially and otherwise — if academics really were the primary focus at North Carolina, this long-term fraud wouldn't have been tolerated. It never would've been allowed to have gone on. Someone would have stepped forward. Coaches and advisors would've been more vigilant. What began, perhaps, as small-scale cheating grew beyond anyone's expectations, and with an athletic department that was too big to fail, simply was allowed to continue, quietly.

If you think money didn't play a role in that, I disagree. Money changes things. It already has.

It even made one of the proudest institutions in the nation look the other way.

The NCAA can and should throw the book at North Carolina. But the way things are headed, that's likely to be the only book that matters in big-time college football and basketball before too long — if it isn't already.

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