The Intersection of Race, Sports & Money: 'C'mon Man'

In our American system of jurisprudence, ignorance of the law is no defense and in many other instances people are held liable for what they knew or should have known. In light of these well established principles, I am at a loss to understand how an independent investigation of the massive academic scandal at the University of North Carolina could absolve current Tar Heels basketball coach Roy Williams from any responsibility for the fraud that continues to be committed against athletes, in particular black student-athletes.

The scandal involved classes that were managed by Debbie Crowder, a non-faculty Student Services Manager in the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The "paper classes" required no class attendance or course work other than a single paper that resulted in consistently high grades for the students who participated in the scam. According to the "independent" report compiled by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein (Wainstein Report), 47.6 percent of enrollees were student-athletes of which 50.9 percent were football players, 12.2 percent men's basketball players, 6.1 percent were women's basketball players, and 30.6 percent Olympic and other sport athletes.

According to the Wainstein Report, student-athletes were directed to the classes by members of the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA). The investigation determined that 167 basketball players enrolled in paper classes during Williams'11-year tenure, compared to 54 players during Dean Smith's 36-year tenure and 17 during Coach Bill Guthridge's 3-year tenure.

According to the Wainstein Report, academic counselors in ASPSA were aware that the paper courses existed, that they required relatively little work and that they generally resulted in high grades. According to the Wainstein Report, the counselors identified those student-athletes who needed extra help to maintain their eligibility, steered them towards the paper classes and then worked closely with Crowder to register them. The Wainstein Report also concluded that men's basketball academic counselor Burgess McSwain and her successor Wayne Walden routinely called Crowder to arrange classes for UNC basketball players.

Williams' claim of ignorance, and the failure to inquire about the academic status of members of the UNC basketball team is even more unbelievable when you consider the fact that the current scandal comes on the heels of a 2010 academic scandal that resulted in the imposition of a one-year postseason ban and scholarship reductions on the football program as the penalty for improper benefits and academic misconduct. Football coach Butch Davis was also fired and AD Dick Baddour resigned.

When I read the Wainstein Report I thought "C'mon Man," the name for an ESPN Monday Night Countdown segment of the same name. During the segment, the hosts each describe a play or series of plays that made them scratch their heads and say "C'mon Man" which is used roughly to mean "give me a break."

Coach Williams' pay was and continues to be supplemented by a bonus based on the academic success of his players, but he knows nothing about the scheme? Never mind the fact that the mastermind of the program, Debby Crowder, saw the athletic department academic counselors as "full partners in her effort to make paper classes available to student-athletes." And never mind that those same academic counselors admitted that they were well aware that the paper courses existed, that they required relatively little work and that they generally resulted in high grades. So even though Williams gets additional money for the academic success of his players, and basketball academic counselors knew of the scheme, we are to believe that Williams knew nothing about what was being done to help him earn the extra dough? "C'mon man."

NCAA Bylaw makes a head coach responsible for the actions of all assistant coaches and administrators who report, directly or indirectly, to the head coach. That would clearly include academic counselors in ASPSA department. So while Coach Williams is responsible for the actions of his subordinates, he gets a pass? "C'mon man." According to the Wainstein Report , investigators were unable to interview legendary Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge because of health issues even though Williams' immediate predecessor, Matt Doherty, told them that he was instructed by Dean Smith and Guthridge, who both had a continued presence on campus, that he should not change the academic "support system." "C'mon man."

The Wainstein Report also found "no evidence that the higher levels of the University tried in any way to obscure the facts or the magnitude of this situation. To the extent there were times of delay or equivocation in their response to this controversy, we largely attribute that to insufficient appreciation of the scale of the problem, an understandable lack of experience with this sort of institutional crisis and some lingering disbelief that such misconduct could have occurred at Chapel Hill."

We are left to believe that a scheme involving thousands of students and coordination among numerous university employees was designed, implemented and maintained over the course of nearly 20 years by two staff members without any knowledge on the part of athletics department or university leadership? "C'mon Man."

At the crux of the scandal are classes in the AFAM Department, and the Wainstein Report puts the entire blame for the massive academic scandal on Crowder and AFAM chairperson Julius N'yangoro, who both cooperated in exchange for charges being dropped. In other words, UNC used the examination of black history as a way to exploit black athletes. Looks to me like a head on crash at the Intersection of Race, Sports & Money. "C'mon man."

In my experience, most student-athletes are under-read, underexposed, undereducated, and frequently misinformed, coming from some of America's most impoverished neighborhoods. While high-paid coaches can deny knowledge of improprieties, student-athletes must know NCAA rules, the number and complexity of which, including the possible consequences, have led most Division I institutions to employ at least one full-time professional staff member devoted to assuring up-to-date knowledge and compliance with NCAA rules as early as the 9th grade.

"C'mon Man."