Huge college sports business news out of Chapel Hill: A star player on the University of North Carolina men’s basketball team that won the 2005 national championship has stepped forward to confess that he stayed academically eligible only because he took fake classes and had others write his term papers.
The admission by Rashad McCants, the second-leading scorer on the UNC team during the 2004-05 season, reinforces other findings over the past couple of years that from the 1990s through 2011, members of the Carolina football and basketball programs disproportionately enrolled in bogus courses. As discussed in this Feb. 27, 2014, Bloomberg Businessweek cover story, titled “No Class,” the long-running scandal in Chapel Hill has raised questions about whether the $16 billion-a-year college sports business is based on phony promises that top football and basketball recruits receive a legitimate education in exchange for their labor on the field and court.
ESPN delivered the McCants scoop:
McCants told “Outside the Lines” that he could have been academically ineligible to play during the championship season had he not been provided the assistance. Further, he said head basketball coach Roy Williams knew about the “paper-class” system at UNC. The so-called paper classes didn’t require students to go to class; rather, students were required to submit only one term paper to receive a grade. McCants also told “Outside the Lines” that he even made the Dean’s List in Spring 2005 despite not attending any of his four classes for which he received straight-A grades. He said advisers and tutors who worked with the basketball program steered him to take the paper classes within the African-American Studies program.
McCants’ allegations mirror and amplify many of those first made public in 2011, when the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer began to report about widespread academic fraud at UNC. The scandal has centered on the African-American Studies classes that many athletes took in order to remain eligible. The newspaper reported in December 2012 that basketball players on the national championship team accounted for 15 enrollments in the classes. A UNC internal investigation found that 54 classes in the department of African and Afro-American Studies were either “aberrant” or “irregularly” taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011. That investigation only went back to 2007, according to the school’s review, because the two senior associate deans who conducted the probe were told by Karen Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to focus on that time frame.
Bizarrely, the NCAA has refrained from investigating the role of UNC’s athletic department, including academic advisers assigned to football and basketball players. With McCants’s confession, it’s difficult to see how the NCAA will justify continuing to turn a blind eye. This latest development comes only days before the June 9 start of a civil trial in federal court in Oakland, Calif., in which former college athletes are accusing the NCAA of maintaining an illegal cartel in violation of U.S. antitrust law.
Williams, UNC’s men’s basketball coach, issued a strange statement today denying any culpability and portraying McCants as part of a hostile force victimizing Carolina athletes. “Our players have been deeply hurt over the last couple of years, and again today, by the comments and innuendo concerning their academic achievements,” Williams said. “Obviously, we pride ourselves on being one of the top basketball programs in the country, but equally important, in helping our players grow academically and socially, as we promised their parents we would.”
One might suggest to Williams that competitors such as McCants “have been deeply hurt” not by raising questions about the quality of their education—what’s wrong with that?—but by a big-revenue sports program that channeled undergraduates into counterfeit classes as a way of preserving their eligibility and bringing championship banners home to Chapel Hill.
Here’s some more from Williams: “With respect to the comments made today, I strongly disagree with what Rashad McCants has said. In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says.”
That contention raises the question of how the head coach of a basketball program, who presumably would be concerned about the eligibility of his star performers, would not know about an initiative to place those players in fake classes. One senses that there are more revelations to come from the bucolic Carolina campus.