Steward Mandel (Fox Sports):
Wainstein describes a culture in which academic-athletic counselors for the football and basketball teams knowingly steered borderline students to Afro-American studies office manager Debbie Crowder’s sham classes for the primary purpose of keeping players eligible.
Just how widespread was this ring of corruption? Jan Boxill, a philosophy professor whose formal title is director of the Parr Center for Ethics, steered women’s basketball players to Crowder and literally named their grade. “Did you say a D will do?” Crowder wrote to Boxill in an e-mail about one player who had apparently recycled an old paper. “Yes, a D will be fine; that’s all she needs,” Boxill replied.
It’s standard practice these days to mock the NCAA for its antiquated rules and haphazard enforcement of them, but the North Carolina report does not involve tattoos for memorabilia, free hotel stays or agent payments. It details systemic abuse of the one area the NCAA purportedly holds most dear. Its mission statement, according to president Mark Emmert, is “to be an integral part of higher education and to focus on the development of our student-athletes.” Those Enterprise rental car commercials, those “going pro in something other than sports” PSAs, the obsession with APR scores and Graduation Success Rates – all reinforce the NCAA’s stated-though-not-always-followed contention that academics are paramount to the college athlete’s experience.
So today, Emmert and the NCAA face a defining moment. What are they going to do about North Carolina? How do you appropriately reprimand a university whose employees spent 18 years making a mockery of higher education? Who put the competitive needs of athletics above the academic development of students? Who made “the most serious academic fraud violations in 20 years” — Clem Haskins’ 18 cheating basketball players — seem like child’s play when compared with the unfathomable scope of UNC’s “shadow curriculum.”
The NCAA has no choice but to deliver a stern punishment to North Carolina or risk losing all credibility whenever Emmert or its leaders talk big about the importance of academics. But what that punishment will be is anyone’s guess.
Maybe wins and trophies will be vacated. Maybe more postseason bans are in store. Maybe something more severe. There’s no blueprint.
Whatever the punishment, it has to effectively send the message that academics, more than anything else, cannot be compromised for the sake of athletics success. The cynics will say that already happens, that there’s jock majors and easy classes at every school. Maybe so, but we don’t know that.
We only know what happened at UNC. And if the NCAA does not demonstrate the extent of its disincentive, then it does risk what happened at UNC happening everywhere else.