UNC Blue gets a Black Eye for Cheating. Did They?


June 9, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013

UNC hoops

This exciting dunk made possible by my teammates, my coach and of course my “tutor”

Results. Revenue. Rewards.

It’s why John “one and done” Calipari just got his just rewards to the sweet Kentucky-bourbon tune of about $52 million to stay at the U of K and keep doing what he’s doing. Hint: Making sure his student-athletes actually attend classes, do their own work and graduate isn’t one of them.

UNC KY ccoach

Bring the brinks truck a little to the left, good, stop, right here

But really, now that Coach Bobby Knight has long since stopped throwing chairs at IU is any big-time sports collegiate program all that worried about the academic integrity of its program and whether their athletes actually get an education? You know, as opposed to retaining their eligibility to play ball, which as we should all know by now are two very different things.

Which brings us to the “other” big blue athletic program. The UNC Tar Heels at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Recently, they find themselves and their program in an unflattering media light. This is largely due to very loud, very public allegations being made by one of its own. Former basketball star Rashad McCants has been telling anyone who listens that the 2005 UNC NCAA I championship basketball team was a joke. Academically speaking of course.

Apparently, his school day went something like this:

Get out of bed around noon. Eat. Hang around and chill with his pals. Play a video-game or two, or three. Go to Hoops practice. Lift weights. Shower, Change. Eat. Hang out. Repeat daily until game-day when there was no practice.

UNC videogaming

Classes? What classes?

Classes? Homework? Papers?

That was for un-athletic chumps. Or in his case, and many of his teammates, that was for tutors or “Learning Specialists” to do so he and others could get straight “As” in African-American courses and he could keep doing what he says he did best-bring in big-time revenue for UNC and their alums.

That way everyone left the arena happy and no one (read: NCAA) was the wiser. Right?

Look, there has been a double-standard for a long-time now at schools when it comes to student-athletes and I don’t mean the crew-kids. Nope. Hoops and football.

So, what’s the big deal?

UNC row team

Hey, how do we get “helping hands” so we can get out of going to class?

Allegedly, UNC had (has?) quite a system in place. If any of their big-time student-athletes gets into shaky academic ground then they are steered towards that magic, academic elixir known as Africa-American Studies or AFAM for short as the players call it. “A sure “A,” as one former put it or as McCants claims, “I never attended a single class, never wrote a paper, but got all “A”s and everyone, including the coaches (read Coach Roy Williams) knew about it.”

And while Roy Williams claims “disbelief” over McCants’ assertions, he’s far from the only one making such claims. In fact, several “tutors” or “Learning Specialists” such as former UNC employee Mary Willingham are stepping forward and hitting more than just net with their stories. Willingham says it’s simple, “We knew and we cheated, and we knew better.”

UNC coach

Likable guy. Hard to believe he had no idea.

She holds Deans at the college complicit as well as the teams coaches. When their top athletes got into academic trouble, they knew what to do, she says, “steer them to the AFAM classes or “paper classes” as they were known, and poof, helping hands magically appear as if in a Harry Potter sorcerer’s scene and those Ds and FS in biology, chemistry, psychology and English get transformed into As. And UNC basketball revels in big blue glory once again.

In fact, McCants claims that not only did these “helping hands” write all of their papers they got some nice “perks” in return. Basketball tickets, autographed memorabilia, locker-room access. Everybody wins!

Look, cheating has been around for as long as organized sports. It didn’t just start with the notorious Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919 nor will it end with these most recent cheating allegations by Mr. McCants.

high cost of college

And it’s hard to believe Ms. Willingham is being anything but honest when she claims that the NCAA knew and continues to know that cheating to support top money-making “student-athletes” is “systemic” and that “they” (NCAA) don’t really want to talk to folks like Willingham because as she puts it “she knows too much and is more than willing (ham) to talk publicly.”

Okay. fair enough. But “systemic”?

Has “student-athlete” really become synonymous for cheat or our contemporary urban or suburban (depending on the location of the school) myth?

I remember years ago, eons perhaps, being approached by an athlete on the basketball team at my undergraduate school (same dorm) for “help” on an upcoming test. We were both in a required psychology class with about 125 other students. His plan was simple. He would sit next to me and I would be “careless” with my answer sheet. He’d copy enough to get at least a “C” and no one the wiser. I’m no angel but it was more insulting than anything. I avoided him like the plague on the day of the exam and then dealt with being ostracized for a week or two for not being a “team player.”

I found out later he dropped the course and got “tutoring” or something of that nature and kept his eligibility. Good for him. Lessons learned all around.

Just maybe not at UNC. Or for that matter, any big-time or wanna-be big time sports program that stands to lose millions in revenue over something as trivial as actually having their athletes get an education or the old-fashioned “earn” their degree.

UNC today. Penn State yesterday. (fill-in-the-blank) big-time school tomorrow.

Results. Revenue. Rewards.

To paraphrase Allen Iverson, grades, are we really talking about grades? grades?

And the illusion, the myth that is becoming student-athletics, especially for the high money making programs (predominantly. basketball and football) will continue to be carefully and often surreptitiously crafted, coveted and covered-up because there is simply too much money at stake. And well, if Rashad McCants and all those in his position get lots of caring, “helping-hands” so he can get a joke of a transcript and keep “generating revenue” for the school as he puts it, for all those “real” students than really, who or what is this system hurting?

NBA cash

It will all be worth it someday. At least for about 1.8% of you.

Ms. Willingham says many of those she “tutored” couldn’t even read or write at a third grade level. Maybe we are hurting those kids.

Coach Roy Williams says he is in “disbelief” and has “no recollection” of such events as described by McCants.

Maybe like the NCAA he has simply become adept at knowing what questions to not ask and when to look the other way.

Maybe we’ve all become too good at living with the bad of our sports programs in America so we can all enjoy the good.

Maybe we need to stop looking the other way.








23 thoughts on “UNC Blue gets a Black Eye for Cheating. Did They?

  1. Shaun J says:

    Throw me in the category of athlete-apologist because I find these to be non-stories. This is only news to people hell bent on holding on to the illusion of the existence of the student athlete in Division I football or basketball. As a graduate of a university that is considered a football school I don’t believe it in any way diminishes the quality of my education or diploma and I appreciate the buildings on campus that would have never been built without the success of athletic teams. Both athletes and university’s are using each other for their own goals and I’m ok with that arrangement. However in this case McCants comes off looking bad now that his pro career has gone nowhere and he now feels as though he was owed something beyond what he was already given. If he would have spoken up while at school I’d give him a lot more credit than I’m willing to now.

  2. Xenia Johns says:

    I have a friend who played football at a major university that has won multiple national championships. When I asked what his major was, I learned it was a program designed for athletes. It wasn’t basket weaving, but it was close and so ridiculous that I can’t even remember what it was. The realization that any institution would concoct a program of study, with no viable employment options, only to ensure students maintains their eligibility is terribly disturbing and a disservice to the students involved. This particular institution also has different admissions criteria for athletes. This allows them to recruit players who otherwise might not qualify for college. Because athletic programs are so lucrative, it may be unrealistic to expect any real reformation. However, if other athletes, faculty, and staff join Willingham and McCants in speaking out, we may see changes.

  3. Paul K says:

    It’s hypocrisy at its worst! And it is an insult to all real students. Shaun, that’s nice you like the buildings the revenue generated from this sham but sorry, it does reflect on you and everyone else who graduated from sports factories. To think some of the hypocritical splatter doesn’t get you as well is naïve. I do agree with one thing though, just end the nonsense and hire these athletes as employees.

    • Shaun J says:

      Agree to disagree but I don’t see how the actions of a basketball team made up of twelve players at a university of near 30,000 is a representative sample of how a university conducts academic business. Additionally if academic dishonesty was an issue that was specific to athletes only it would bother me far more than it does but three frat brothers cheating on an exam doesn’t make the news so it doesn’t come off as fair in my opinion. Also, if there were not so many studies on how much athletic success affected an increase in applications and alumni giving to non-athletic departments I would have more of a problem but sports are a revenue generator for a non-revenue producing industry. I don’t understand the hypocrisy about it because it seems like the worst kept secret in America.

      • Paul K says:

        Fair enough but not representative? Let’s see I say Penn State what do you think of (sports/football scandal) I say U of Alabama (you think roll tide and football or their fine chemistry department?) I say Ohio State (you tell me you don’t think football and sexual assaults?) I say FSU and I think of J. Winston QB sexual assault charges and shoplifting crab legs. Tell me again how major, high-profile programs like these and UNC cheating don’t reflect on everyone again?

    • taylor d says:

      Being a former football player at a major D1 and having since worked for a major D1 football program I take great personal offense to you claiming that it is an insult to real students. The athletes at these schools are on one of two paths from the day they get to campus; get a good degree and have success in life outside of sports or take one that is a little easier but put all of your focus into making it to the NFL. I was an accounting major while an undergrad so to say that I was not a real student is a complete joke. Now I will not make claims that there are cases like the UNC not happening but it is not the majority of students athletes that this happens to. And the money generated by these athletes that you sit in the stands and cheer for is funding that nice new building on campus that gives new life to a program or allows a new rec center to be built so that the “real students” can go be lazy in the pool and sit on a cardio bike.

      You do make one semi good point. These athletes deserve to be compensated at a much higher level then they currently are. Too many of my current athletes have to go get one or two jobs on top of the commitments to their sport and having to stay on top of their school work just to be eligible to play the game.

  4. Rebecca L says:

    Let’s back this story up a few steps. In HS, there are all too many young men who reject academics for another pathway to college: athletics. They aren’t motivated by grades, because they are relying on their physical talent to move them along. Then the NCAA recruiters don’t call and they graduate (or not) HS without the grades, the test scores, or the will for college. Those that do get the call head off to follow their college dreams. …

    Now, some of these young men arrive on the college campus woefully unprepared for academic rigor. That statistic of a 3rd grade reading level is not unrealistic in some cases. When some of these men get to college, they don’t care about academics because they are relying on another pathway to a career and financial success: the pros. They whittle away their daytime hours while the nerds are in class, waiting for their life on the court to begin. They sacrifice their youth and their bodies for the dream. Then the agents don’t show up and they aren’t in the draft, and they graduate (or not) without a real degree, without any prep for life, a career, etc. College towns are full of these guys. They stay. They wipe tables at the bar. They talk about their glory days on the team, Their life peaked in their early 20s, and it’s all downhill from here.

    This story is tragic at each of these stopping points and frankly, I’m not sure which is worse.

  5. James L. J. says:

    Rebecca, yeah but like you say they had a choice. They went for the gold and many end up not even with bronze. So I say tough. You can be the bouncer at my favorite bar, the personal trainer at my Ballys or maybe the bartender. I say tough, at least they got some glory, many never even have that!

    • Rebecca L says:

      Maybe that’s OK for the guys that graduate from college, but don’t you think the HS boys who don’t make it to college deserve a little more grace?

  6. Erica T F says:

    The sad part is the students don’t see that in essence they are being used by the school…what happens after the 4 or 5 years of college and it is time for the student to move on to the real world? Many of those athletes needing the scandalous help can’t even read or write and after the false illusion of completing college, they are released into the real world…then what? A small percentage will make it to the NBA, but what happens to the rest of them? I never understood why a person would want to sell themselves short and not get the proper education. I am definitely a proponent of higher education and as a teacher myself I try to instill the same emphasis to my students. As far as the athletes, they are just doing themselves a huge disservice by letting the school use them up and then throw them way after a fresh crew of athletes come in to get over on. Unfortunately, common sense just isn’t common sense anymore. the school reaps the benefits and the athlete suffers…how does none of the athletes see this?

  7. Anya C says:

    In my opinion and some first hand knowledge, major college athletes are simply continuing what goes on in their high school. It really starts there with “people” coming to speak with teachers about specific players, but it tends to take strong people (i.e. myself) to do what is right when it comes to coaches asking for extras for athletes. I simply tell them they are like any other student that struggles and can come to morning or afternoon tutoring. It’s unrealistic to believe that some of these stories are untrue, “student-athletes” is just a term that some people still believe is true of major sports college athletes. Most people know that the requirements are lowered for student athletes to get into some schools and I’ve seen it first-hand, but I also have seen someone who actually was a star player in high school LEGALLY meet the requirements to get in and then realized once there that they better at least get a worthwhile degree from the major university. I think in this story maybe the coach did not know for sure and probably saw it best that way. But what do you say to a student who went solely for basketball and couldn’t make it at the next level? Why would he wait until now to even bring this up? It seems to me the “has-beens” or the ones who weren’t good enough for the next level are the ones who are screaming the loudest. Entitlement is surely a bad disease. If you believe you are being used, why not use them to get an actual degree? Have some type of common sense or street smarts and do the math…there are plenty of college athletes, but only few pr players in any sport…so duh…as my student’s say.. “you better have 2 of the three smarts…common sense, street smarts, or books smarts”.

  8. Rachel B. says:

    The whole point of going to college is to get a degree that will hopefully set one up for their future career goals. I understand that athletes get scholarships and in turn help the school out especially when it comes to revenue from sporting events. They are still there to go to school though. I don’t believe these athletes’ getting a free pass is helping them in any way. The percentage of college athletes that go on to professional leagues is small, so that means after college comes getting a job. Ok so if they spend four years in school with little to show education wise then how are they going to be prepared for a future? That’s the problem with these situations it ends up hurting the athletes. Granted athletes hold their own share of the blame because they slacked off then took help instead of doing their own work in the first place. The thing is not all programs are like that. I am a fan of UGA’s football team and while the program isn’t perfect, they aren’t afraid to discipline athletes or remove them from the team. Some people criticize them for releasing good players, but I am proud of the standards they set forth. I guess it all depends on the standards a school wants to have and portray. I believe McCants story and while he may have ulterior motives for speaking out now that doesn’t negate what he is saying. This issue needs to be more heavily monitored in all schools. A player helps a school for a few years, but it is also the responsibility of the school to look out for its students, including players, and help prepare them for their future.

  9. Chandria says:

    This is such a recurring story. I am certainly worried about those student-athletes that don’t make it to professional sports. It would seem that the educational system would have figured out how to properly educate student-athletes by now. I’m sure it is difficult to follow a strict schedule for work and school activities. However, not getting a proper education is very detrimental to any individual.

    I took engineering courses with some student-athletes and even tutored a few. These were hard-working, dedicated individuals. I even know that some of them moved on to have successful business and engineering careers. Had they counted on having professional sports careers without any regard for their educations, I can’t imagine where they would be at this time.

    I’ve also known individuals that focused more on their sports activities than their academics. Some of these individuals only have stories to tell of their brief high school or college sports highlights. They never could get beyond these stories and struggle in the job market.

    I would imagine many other schools at different levels share this same story.

  10. Thomas says:

    I think this is one of those things that is going to continue to be a “he said, she said” type of scenario. I don’t believe a thing Rashad McCants says, but that is my opinion. I’m not a Carolina fan but I do like Roy Williams. He has ran a clean program everywhere he has been and I think a lot of the statements coming from McCants are bologna. I go from the past and all of a sudden and at the end of his career Williams doesn’t run a program right. I’m sure McCants received extra help in college like most star athletes do, but not to the extent he portrays. I think the picture he is painting is exaggerated and unfair to Coach Williams. Just get on twitter and look at the pages from the former Carolina basketball players from the last 5 years or so. They all back Williams and pipe down McCants comments. Again this is my opinion and I just base it off the past

  11. Dylan G says:

    Athletes have been receiving extra assistance in their academics for years. A personal “tutor” or degrees designed to allow for a less rigorous course load than their peers on campus have helped retain their athletic skills in trade for the wins on the court or football field for many universities. It is a sad and disgusting trade off, but that is reality. How much coaches and universities actually know about what is going on is different for each situation. As a graduate of a “football” university, I have had to bear the brunt of many misconceptions that trickle down to the student body. I was in school during a scandal that involved players taking courses that involved questions such as “how many points do you get for making a three point shot?” Really, I was busting my tail to get juggle work and full time schooling while athletes were taking courses that had this type of curriculum. It is disheartening to witness first hand, but unfortunately it is the reality of it. I don’t know that McCants received as much as he claims, that is between him and Roy Williams. But I am quite sure that something went on there, and goes on at any other University that strives to reach the top in the big two of athletics, football and basketball. The free education at some of the greatest universities in the world should be enough to keep an athlete happy and proud to have been given that opportunity. Unfortunately, in many cases that goes out the window when faced with the reality of having to study and work at achieving good grades. All it takes is one person doing the wrong thing, to bring down the rest of his teammates who have been doing it the right way.

  12. Andy Miner says:

    Well I’m an alumnus of that other, other “big blue” basketball school, the University of Kansas (we add crimson to our color scheme for variety), where Ol’ Roy coached from 1988 to 2003 before leaving for his Tarheel homeland in a move that had Jayhawkers wearing “Benedict Williams” T-shirts around Lawrence. Most of us came to terms with Roy after trouncing UNC in the 2008 Final Four. Anyway, Roy personified the “aw shucks” good ole boy coach who, while I don’t remember any major allegations of cheating during his KU tenure, wouldn’t have anything stick to him anyway because the college and town loved him so much. Kansas is a state without any pro sports teams (the KC teams are technically in hated Missouri and tend to suck anyway), so KU basketball and K-State football is the best we got. So I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot could be let slide in that climate. However, KU’s basketball team under Bill Self always seems to perform near the top of the Big 12, if not the country, in academic terms. Of course, it’s hard telling how much cheating and/or slacking goes on to buffer those stats.

    The college athlete system is definitely in need of repair. I’m not really a fan of the “one and done” requirement which just seems to be a joke. If they’re good enough to play in the NBA after high school, let them go. Why make them spend a year in college pretending that they care about getting a degree? How’s that for a motivation to cheat? Are that many people under the illusion that they’ll come back some day to finish? (Note this is nothing against these athletes at all. If I had the talent to make millions as a pro athlete, you better believe I wouldn’t be in a doctoral program now.) While collegiate student-athletes do receive scholarships and education for their efforts, I’m concerned that the system is bent towards the NCAA and universities, considering the massive amounts of money they make off the players and their performances. (I was really annoyed that I couldn’t watch many of the tourney games online this year because I needed a cable subscription due to the NCAA’s deal with CBS – it seems a bit unfair that I can’t easily watch a school that my tuition and taxpayer dollars supported play basketball.) I’m not sure if paying athletes is the answer, that opens up a can of worms (who gets paid, how much, etc), but it’s also tempting to take stories like this and dismiss a large chunk of athletes as cheating freeloaders who should be happy for what they get. And that, in my opinion, is a very incomplete view of the issue.

  13. Ant T says:

    This is nothing new and I don’t know why it is so surprising when people find out that some players don’t go to class, don’t do their work and take bs courses.This is the sad, money-driven industry that we aspire for our kids to play in. The NCAA is a business and don’t think for a second that the NCAA’s main concern with the employees (players) is going to class and doing homework. The real concern is how many touchdown’s is “Famous Jameis” going to throw Saturday or how many points are Calipari’s 8 McDonalds All-Americans going to score. Degrees? We don’t want degrees! We want All-Americans and championships! Let’s be honest, none of us really care what these players do after they leave our beloved universities, so we might as well let them do what they want for the 3 or 4 years(1 year for Kentucky Mens basketball) they are enrolled.

    Ok ok I’m done with the foolishness. Yes, the NCAA is a money driven business but this idea that athletes don’t go to class and take bs classes is crazy. We as STUDENT-athletes (I’m a former D1 athlete) do in fact attend class and take real classes. We are human and might miss class occasionally or not do assignments but regular students do that. There is a very very very small percent of athletes that might get their prayers answered and don’t have to attend class or do work but other than that small percentage we are going to class and actually doing work.

  14. Massi M says:

    Every few years a disgruntled student-athlete or tutor decide to blow the whistle on the big bad NCAA and high profile universities that make millions of dollars by insuring that athletes (especially basketball and football) maintain their eligibility. In this articles the author use recent claims by Former North Carolina Tar heel Rashad McCant that he was directed toward courses in the African American studies program because as paper courses they were considered easy “A’s”, especially when the student-athletes teetered on academic probation. Rashard’s allegations came as his NBA career stymied as the high school and college standout struggled to adjust to the speed and physicality of the professional league. Ironically, the tutor or learning specialist moral compass started working again as she (Ms. Willingham) began work in the real world. Don’t get me wrong, student athletes are still coddle to a certain degree but the allegations are offensive to the thousands who working very hard academically and physically to success. I’m sorry Rashard didn’t learn that his education was his responsibility not North Carolina’s and that he could have written those papers and studied those text books. I’m sure Ms. Willingham’s resume list well respected North Carolina Alumni as references giving her an edge in finding employment especial in certain circles. To be clear, students that can’t complete the academic requirement should not be allowed to participate in athletes (good luck with the money the generate). Some of these students should not have been enrolled in the school in the first place because of inadequate scores but that’s a failing of the public school systems around the country and the greed of these schools. Athletes like Rashard McCants (or the vast majority of not as talented) are not helped by slipped them through school because later in life when they need those cognitive skills to survive they’ll be left with blaming others for their failures.

  15. John C says:

    This story is very sad. Men’s basketball programs get most of the headlines, but I am fearful that many major-college athletes are treated the same way that the UNC basketball players were. (are?) There is no easy fix, as with most things screwed up in our world, money now rules college athletics. Big money. At the top 50 Division I universities, the athletic department accounts for revenue, prestige, publicity, and a sense of self-worth for students, alumni, and I would suggest event the faculty and administrators. The NCAA is no help at all as a “governing” body as the UNC case shows.

  16. junior j says:

    This is greed at its finest. Allowing the student athletes to throw away their education and the school wasting scholarships that could have helped students that would have been willing to learn. You would expect more from such a large colleges but not everyone in positions of authority know how important integrity is.
    I believe that if the student athletes actually realized what they were throwing away and the odds of not needing an education to live in this country, they would have gone to class gladly. The school and the administrators need to be punished, maybe even fired, but by having this conversation its proves that a solution could be near.

  17. alifox says:

    I work at a community college with few athletic teams so it is a none issue on our campus. However I feel similarly to Shaun J that I don’t feel it diminishes the degrees of serious students. Big athletic schools and athletes have a mutually beneficial relationship and it doesn’t really bother me from that point. I do however feel sorry for the athletes who are being given a free pass and do not get held accountable. It seems as though the schools could provide actual tutors to help athletes balance coursework with athletics.

  18. Levi says:

    It is a concerning fact that in the shadow of the ivory tower lurks a hidden truth pertaining to student athletics. There have been books, articles, and blog post written about whether or not professors at major American Universities are letting players skim by academically. I have heard this before, but I find it to be doubtful, partially. I do not think that at these Universities there is a cabal of coaches pressuring professors to allow their players a free pass in class. Nothing that sinister. But, I do think that perhaps some professors may be “star struck” if they have an exceptional player and want them to do well. More likely, they may realize that the athletic program actually generates a good amount of revenue, and therefore it is helpful to the University and themselves to give them a break.
    In my personal experience, I attended a certain major NCAA university and had several classes with a player that eventually was drafted into the NFL. I cannot remark on his grades, but I know that he did not have perfect attendance in class. But, in all honesty, he probably attended more than students that showed up the first day and you never saw them again until exam day. The student athlete did participate and seemed to put fourth an effort. Did he get graded easier? I don’t know. But he appeared to be an average student.

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