Did UNC get off scot-free by the NCAA? Hardly.
I know there is outrage in corners across North Carolina, and college athletics in general, by the NCAA’s decision not to sanction Carolina because it could not prove any of its bylaws were violated. It’s funny how people who understand exactly what happened still think UNC should have been punished.
We can argue that point from the N&O trying to justify its four-year scandal coverage to all those who are shocked the NCAA didn’t lock up Tar Heel athletics and throw away the key. But, believe me, Carolina paid a stiff price over the last four years, and will potentially keep paying.
First, UNC’s formerly sterling reputation has been tarnished. Prestige and credibility is what attracts students – and athletes – to a college, and the reputation of a great public university has been trashed by angry mobs yelling about what happened here, hoping to expose evidence and further wrongdoings. The sting of that name-calling won’t go away anytime soon, and the current Tar Heel teams that had nothing to do with it will be roundly booed at road games for some time to come.
Second, how about damage to recruiting? Ask any UNC coach if his or her recruiting was harder during this period of scrutiny. Ask Roy Williams why he couldn’t get kids to visit campus and give him a chance to even tell his side of the story. How about impressionable 10-16 year olds considering future colleges and beginning to really root for their first teams? How many did not become Tar Heel fans because of all the bad publicity, how many now associate Carolina with scandal and dishonesty? UNC will surely lose some great students and exceptional athletes in the years to come.
How about the financial bite it took out of the university, which had to spend upwards of $30 million to defend its position time and time again? That money could have gone elsewhere, and just might be the least of it since UNC alumni and fans have remained staunchly loyal to their school and kept donating their dollars.
The collective sigh of relief that came with the NCAA’s statement Friday morning did little to correct a tarnished reputation, get the recruits back who were too scared to visit or certainly redirect those dollars to more important uses for UNC. In the end, Carolina had suffered enough in all of those areas, plus the time spent hand-wringing by those who love their school, it would be quite fair to call it time served.