Former Governor Martin’s report on his independent investigation into academic fraud at UNC is due Thursday, and my educated guess is that it will confirm what we already know and reveal little that we don’t.
That’s the outcome UNC must have to finally put this scandal to rest and move on, and any new revelations would be even more damaging than the massive hit the university’s reputation has already taken. Any such new allegations would be a bombshell that could reverberate through the athletic department, past and present and future.
Martin’s report is sure to say that, yes, there were too many independent study courses offered in the Department of Afro and African-American Studies and, yes, there were too many athletes clustered in some of those courses. We already know that and the university has pledged to fix the problem that apparently created a climate conducive to cheating.
Fewer independent study courses will be offered and the students taking them will have to be fully qualified, which is the point of independent studies in the first place. Athletes liked them because they had no classes and helped balance the time burden of playing a varsity sport.
And while we may suspect that more cheating occurred than has already been exposed, some of it claimed by former athletic support employee Mary Willingham, hard proof will have been difficult to find by Martin and the Baker Tilly consulting firm that has helped conduct the investigation.
Heretofore, as far as we know, no tutors or teachers have come forward to admit they illegally helped write term papers for athletes. And the only paper found to be plagiarized belonged to former football player Michael McAdoo who after being suspended from the team went in the supplemental NFL draft to the Baltimore Ravens, where he is still on their practice squad.
By UNC policy, term papers do not have to be kept on file for more than a year, so Martin’s committee may have class rolls and transcripts but will likely uncover no evidence that any students (athletes or not) received improper help in writing the papers that determined their grades in independent study courses.
At least I hope not.
Let’s theorize what would happen if Martin found several papers by former prominent athletes at UNC that his investigation suspects were written with impermissible help from tutors or illegally plagiarized. The ramifications could be sweeping, far beyond the possible vacating of victories and championships. It would mean further investigation and more public records requests from the media, which already seems never ending.
Say those athletes were now members of professional sports teams. Just as Julius Peppers was unduly embarrassed by the publishing of his first-semester transcript, dragging any more of UNC’s famous athletic alumni into the scandal would tarnish the reputation of the pro athletes who have been such great ambassadors for the university and substantiate claims that the cheating was not contained from 2007-2011.
And say those pro stars implicated after the fact were African-Americans, like every student-athlete that was part of both the NCAA investigation and academic fraud that resulted in Carolina’s three-year probation and one-year bowl ban. The widespread unrest among the minority students on campus over the last three years is no secret, with claims that some athletes were not protected enough—in fact suspended and sacrificed too quickly by UNC.
What would this mean to Carolina’s long-standing reputation as one of the most popular schools in the country for minorities? And how much would that affect Larry Fedora’s and Roy Williams’ and all the other UNC coaches in continuing to recruit and sign quality African-American student-athletes? It certainly would not help.
Most damaging, UNC might be permanently branded the same way as other universities that have been associated with repeated academic scandals.
That Carolina has taken its medicine, fired culpable coaches and staff members and already begun fixing what was broken should be enough. It would be different if the athletic department considered getting caught the “cost of doing business” and was only paying lip services to making changes. That goes on at some SEC schools, which have served more probations than any others in the country and continue winning championships.
UNC has never been of that ilk, and what happened over the last five years was clearly an aberration that has embarrassed and hurt thousands of proud alumni. Holden Thorp and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham have reset goals for academics and athletics that far exceed any baselines previously used for excellence in the classroom and on the playing fields.
More than 40 years ago, in the stifling summer of 1971, a Tar Heel football player named Billy Arnold suffered a heat stroke during preseason practice and died after several weeks in a coma. An investigation ensued and Coach Bill Dooley and his staff were cleared of any wrong-doing.
But what resulted spoke far more loudly than the internal probe. The football coach at Carolina no longer determined the length and nature of practices once the temperature and humidity reached a certain level, and mandatory water and rest breaks were dictated by the medical staff on hand. From an environment where the coach and team doctor controlled practice came the formation of UNC’s Sports Medicine Department, now considered one of the finest in the country.
Billy Arnold’s parents could have sued the university, but chose not to. Dooley and his staff could have been fired or reprimanded for negligence, but were not (at least publicly). Dooley remained coach of the Tar Heels for seven more seasons.
The unthinkable had happened. After grieving for Arnold, the university was more focused on making changes to ensure it never happened again than assigning blame. There was no benefit in looking back, only to learning from any mistakes that had been made.
That’s why I hope, and believe, the Martin report will confirm everything we already know, but tell us nothing that we don’t. And UNC can finally, and fully, move forward.http://chapelboro.com/columns/sports-notebook/the-martin-report
Now that Holden Thorp is stepping down, I think he should call the bluff of the blowhards. I want to see him get in front of the media, aiming squarely at the News & Observer, and tell everyone, “Hell yeah, athletes have it easier.”
Gregg Doyel first got my attention when he was a punk sports writer for the Charlotte Observer, obviously trying to make a name for himself.
At the time, he wrote a story claiming the problems surrounding UNC’s basketball program in the early 2000s were all Dean Smith’s fault. Smith had been retired for five years but Doyel insisted Smith was still behind the scenes pulling the strings like some puppeteer.
As with numerous columns he has written since as the loosest cannon at CBSSports.com, Doyel was dead wrong. In fact, Smith had just about wiped his hands of his former program after Chancellor James Moeser foolishly vetoed the hiring of Larry Brown in 2000.
Carolina’s brief basketball swoon was on Matt Doherty, the coach Moeser did approve, who of course lasted three years before getting fired, which allowed Roy Williams a second chance to come back and return the Tar Heels to national prominence.
When the UNC football scandal broke in the summer of 2010, Doyel jumped in with both feet, calling Butch Davis something like the “turd in the punch bowl.” His opinion that Davis had to go, if not his characterization, turned out to be true after UNC decided its reputation was more important than keeping Davis. As you know, I agreed with that move.
Doyel (who went to Florida) says he is hesitant to talk trash about Carolina because his sister went here and lives near here. And he likes Roy Williams, one of the few coaches left who gives Doyel the time of day. Yet, after admitting that he only got interested in the academic side of the case upon seeing the alleged Julius Peppers transcript, Doyel did what he often does – take the easy way out with lazy, inflammatory journalism.
Even for his standards, Doyel’s latest tirade is pretty unconscionable and fits what he was hired to do during the Wild West days of the Internet – just throw stuff out there and see if it sticks. He took the Peppers transcript story, jumped to a mile-wide conclusion and predicted both Carolina football and basketball are “going down.” Doyel backs up little of what he says, using the News & Observer reports to form his own absurd opinions.
Who at CBS Sports allows such irresponsible writing?
Doyel then went on a Charlotte radio show Wednesday morning and said he thinks the only two schools in the country offering African Studies majors are Kansas and Carolina and the common thread is Williams. Ah, wrong again, Greggie. The number is 93, including Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Harvard and Yale, Cal-Berkeley, Michigan and Virginia
I’ve seen the supposed Peppers transcript. If it is indeed his, all it shows is that Peppers did poorly during his (red-shirt) freshman year (1998-99), which is hardly unique for under-qualified athletes. Obviously, he had to get his grades up in summer school to play in 1999, but there is no evidence that Peppers did it by cheating or being given grades in any course.
Other than that, a copy of Peppers’ transcript at one moment in time means nothing, for these reasons:
Despite what else comes out from a period when Carolina earned an NCAA probation, vacated 16 victories, lost 15 scholarships plus a bowl game and changed football coaches twice, most of the athletes who haven’t been implicated do the work, finish the class and get a grade. There is nothing to suggest otherwise.
If you don’t like the fact that some of them are admitted as academic exceptions, are steered toward easier courses and need help from tutors and sympathetic professors, blame the escalation of big-time college athletics into a money-driven enterprise. It is not exclusive to Carolina, not by a long shot.
Reluctant to respond, hiding behind privacy laws, or whatever, UNC needs to stand up and set the record straight about what Tar Heel athletes are supposed to be doing, and what most of them do. Or this is going to spin out of control to the point where more dirt bags like Doyel can claim on national websites that this is “maybe the ugliest academic scandal in NCAA history.”
It’s the job of media like the News & Observer to investigate such stories, publish the facts they find and ask further questions. It’s not Gregg Doyel’s job to defame an entire athletic department over a few guilty parties for a nebulous period of time without any substantiation whatsoever.
“UNC football — and probably basketball — is going down,” Doyel wrote in his column. “For starters, there are some banners at the Smith Center that need to come down.”
Don’t think so. In fact, if his editors at CBSSports.com ever wise up, Doyel is the one who needs to go down for writing such drivel.http://chapelboro.com/columns/sports-notebook/dirt-bags-we-know