Art’s Angle: Imagined Conversations
Since the University is in shut-down mode over the ongoing athletic and academic scandal (and the NCAA won’t make its announced return to campus until the fall), somebody has got to say something.
So I will. This is what I imagine of the various conversations between Federal prosecutor Ken Wainstein and Julius Nyang’oro, Deborah Crowder and Wayne Walden, and how they will go with the NCAA. I can’t even imagine what Rashad McCants will or won’t say to anyone at this point, and UNC has officially requested an interview with the lone ranger of revenge.
Nyang’oro and Crowder, the former chairman and his administrative assistant at the old African and Afro-American Studies Department, stonewalled the NCAA and the media the first time around, but they have both reportedly (according to numerous sources) talked to Wainstein or a member of his staff.
Since the irregularities in what became known as AFAM have been traced back to the 1990s, some of the questions have to be about Dean Smith and his successor Bill Guthridge. It’s no secret that Smith ran his program like a fiefdom, controlling every aspect of it and keeping it as separate from the rest of the athletic department as humanly possible. For example, he had his own academic support staff led by the late and beloved Burgess McSwain, who died in 2004 after a lengthy illness.
And it is also no secret that Crowder has been the romantic partner of one-time Tar Heel basketball player Warren Martin for more than 30 years. Martin has escaped most of the publicity in this mess, but everyone who knows him and of his record as a popular elementary school teacher in the Carrboro-Chapel Hill School system gives the 7-foot former center on UNC teams from 1982-86 straight A’s.
Because of Crowder’s association with the basketball program, there was very likely a pipeline of players sent by Smith and later Guthridge over to the AFAM Department. Smith, the son of school teachers who considered himself an educator, wanted his players to get a college education, graduate and have a good experience doing it. That’s a little code for saying he didn’t have to worry about the best students he recruited, but he wanted the less-capable students to have success in courses they could handle.
So Crowder, if not Nyang’oro, has in all likelihood told Wainstein this story. And I am not quoting here, just paraphrasing an imagined conversation: “Yes, Coach Smith sent players over to AFAM and wanted them to take courses they would both enjoy and have a chance to pass with a good grade. He had three rules about all of his players: one, they had to go to class (and Coach Guthridge and the other assistants checked their attendance on a regular basis); two, they had to do the work they were assigned; and, three, they could get help from Burgess but not outside the bounds of what was permitted by the university.”
If there were any AFAM independent study courses back in the ‘90s (and it is still unclear how many), they were monitored closely by McSwain, whose integrity, toughness and love for those players were all well known.
Smith has a well-publicized illness and cannot speak for himself, but Guthridge confirmed that he personally checked class attendance by walking around, peeping into class door windows to see whether the players were there. And he kept track of their grades and progress, as de facto academic advisor.
Thus, those should have been very short conversations between Wainstein, Crowder and Nyang’oro, who it will be revealed was not in this to help African-American athletes, but rather all African-American students at UNC. He isn’t even a college sports fan.
If Wainstein’s staff tracked down Walden, the former academic advisor to the Kansas and Carolina basketball teams under Roy Williams, those conversations were likely longer because Walden’s story needed more scrutiny. And Walden’s story goes something like this (again, imagined): “When I arrived in Chapel Hill in the summer of 2003, I did what I did at Kansas and went over the academic majors, course loads and progress of all the players who were already in the program. I wanted to know their majors, what classes they were taking and how they were all doing. Standard operating procedure.
“What I found was a curious clustering of players majoring in AFAM, and while that may have been natural for African-American students, there were also some white players taking those courses. Maybe they were easy courses, which is not unusual at any school and certainly not restricted to athletes. So I began looking into it a little deeper.
“Over the course of the first year, I determined that too many of our players were AFAM majors and there were too many independent study courses being offered. There wasn’t much I could do about it with players who had already declared their majors, but moving forward I monitored it closely. And by 2009, when I left UNC to get married and move to Texas, not a single basketball player was majoring in AFAM.
“Did Coach Williams know any of this? He always wanted to know how the players were doing and if there were any problems I could not handle. And I always could, because that was my job. His job was taking a disjointed group he had inherited and trying to mold them into a good basketball team. As it was at Kansas, it was nothing I couldn’t handle.”
Did Walden know anything about what McCants alleged almost 10 years later?
“Sure, I knew he was taking independent study courses and probably too many of them. But, remember, he was focused on the NBA after we won the national championship in 2005, and he was one of seven players we had for two years or less before they graduated or declared for the NBA draft. If Rashad was doing what he said he was doing, I didn’t know about it, and if I didn’t know, Coach Williams didn’t.”
So, if those conversations went anywhere close to my supposition, the NCAA and Wainstein will be left with McCants, whose credibility has always been in question since his checkered playing career and whose charges have yet to be corroborated by a single basketball player or any other athlete at UNC. And now McCants is threatening to sue the university for $10 million and the NCAA for $300 million to compensate him for the mistakes he made! You want that in cash or a check, Rashad?
When the NCAA came in after the fact at Michigan and levied the heaviest sanctions in the history of college basketball against the Wolverines, it was because several of the Fab Five players admitted they had “borrowed” more than $600,000 from Michigan boosters, particularly Ed Martin. If you want to read the details of that sordid case for comparison, click here.
What it will come down to here is McCants’ highly questionable story and motives with zero corroboration. There was far more evidence from the jeweler who gave Duke basketball player Lance Thomas a $60,000-plus line of credit than this case. And the NCAA did nothing with Thomas or Duke.
So while it may now take another six months to get to the end of this tortuous road, the result will be no different than it stands today: embarrassment that UNC will have to endure for years to come, but no additional sanctions. Michigan survived a much worse situation, and this too shall pass.
At least, that’s what I imagine.