North Carolina has been found of not guilty of any wrongdoing. Yet again the NCAA is in the headlines, and this time it has to do with a three-and-a-half-year investigation into North Carolina and academic misconduct with their athletes. Despite what everyone and their dog wants to hear, the NCAA made the right call on this one if they are going to adhere to their rule book. But that may be the problem right there. Their rule book can’t do anything about North Carolina.
For a quick recap, here is what happened. Dating back to 1993, North Carolina’s African American Studies Department (AFAM) has been offering paper classes to students and athletes. Debbie Crowder, an administrative assistant within AFAM, orchestrated a decades long academic fraud scheme that brought the entire accreditation of one of the country’s top public schools under attack. According to the report compiled by former federal prosecutor, Kenneth Wainstein, Crowder left the university after her own time as a student, disgruntled by her experience. She felt that professors paid too much attention to the best and brightest, but ignored students like herself.
When she found employment at UNC in 1979 she spent much of her time trying to relieve academic pressure from students that were struggling to make it on campus. In 1992, Julius Nyang’oro became head of the AFAM department and was more than happy to delegate much of his duties to Crowder. It took less than a year under Nyang’oro for Crowder to be using his signature to conduct a “shadow curriculum” according to the Wainstein report. Crowder would then hand pick students to enroll in her classes, assign them papers, grade their papers and record the grades both within her own classes and sometimes unknowingly to other professors in their classes. The papers required no actual substance and she would provide students with As or high Bs.
Soon enough, academic counselors for athletes were sending Crowder lists of athletes to enroll into these courses and what grades they required to remain eligible. Ultimately counselors to regular students got wind of this and started directing their students that were struggling or experienced personal hardships into these courses. Needless to say the drastic lack of oversight by the university was more than troubling. The top-30 public university had to spend millions to save its accreditation.
But this is the point where the NCAA comes in. Hundreds of football and basketball players benefited from this academic scam through its 18-year run. So, clearly the NCAA had to consider this, right? Well there’s your problem. The NCAA is not in the business of accrediting courses in a university setting. In their rule books, they rely on the accreditation of the university to provide bona fides to the classes. So, if UNC was saying that these courses were real, the NCAA according to their rules had to accept it. Thus, the question does not become an issue of academic fraud, but whether athletes were the only ones that benefitted.
Here is where the UNC investigation comes to a head. Of the students that took advantage of these fake classes, 47% were athletes, 53% were general population. That 47% is certainly higher than the 4% share of the student population the athletes make up, but there are several ways to explain that away (including priority registration). Ultimately the NCAA could not find UNC at fault. It just is not in their power to do so. Which is why the NCAA needs to get out of academics.
Listen, anyone who has been to college knows that there are some BS classes. I tried to take Bass Fishing at IU. The only problem is it was full by the time I had the opportunity to enroll. I hear they would cast their lines into the pool for an hour and call it a class. I believe they went fishing once at the end of the semester. I did get into War and Comic Books. Where 30 semi-functioning alcoholics took advantage of a poor old professor once a week for 12 weeks to get an easy A with as little work as possible. Goof off classes run rampant through the university system. Everyone that attended a university has a story of one.
Knowing that, the NCAA should just get out of academic eligibility altogether. If the athlete is accepted by the university, he’s eligible. If the NCAA’s rules don’t properly allow them to differentiate between UNC making up classes for two decades and Bryant Fitzgerald being misled on eligibility requirements from the University who wanted him eligible, then quit masquerading in academia. If the school says the athlete is eligible, then that’s that. No more docking UConn scholarships because of a low APR score. No longer do you get to decide that a 2.0 GPA isn’t good enough. You’ve just stated as an institution in the UNC case that you are not qualified. Which means you have to quit.
Be the body that negotiates and enforces the rules within the sports. The NCAA can be the body that decides on a 30 second shot clock instead of a 35 second one. But quit trying to tell me this guy can’t play because he sat the bench for a semi-pro basketball team in France and received pennies in compensation for one year before enrolling at IU. Quit trying to say that this girl can’t set foot on the court because her junior college transcripts are missing core classes. You just said you really can’t tell the difference. So, stop pretending that you can.
Until then, I would advise universities to not report grades. Make them up, lie, who cares. The NCAA is toothless if you don’t tell them that your athletes are failing. There is no reason to self-report anymore. If too many text messages to recruits gets you in more hot water than fake classes, then there is a major flaw in the system. Blow it up or don’t openly participate, that is the lesson that every athletic department in America learned last Friday.