What are Mary Willingham’s real motives these days?
Is she so deep into it now that she has to keep justifying her original actions, which seemed honorable (if not exactly accurate) at the time?
Is she getting off on her new-found fame? Or being used by those trying to bring down the NCAA?
Maybe she and Jay Smith are still trying to find a publisher for their tell-all book. (If they had found one already, they would have plastered it all over their website www.paperclassinc.com.) Sounds like a self-publishing job, at best, to me. That website, by the way, proves the scandal has been reduced to a significantly small number of people who are bickering endlessly in the comments section.
While most of the student body, faculty, alumni and fan base have expressed satisfaction with the changes and reforms Carol Folt and Bubba Cunningham are making, Willingham and Smith are still looking back, implicating and indicting athletes by association with what UNC will soon show are grossly inaccurate data and reckless behavior that could lead to serious consequences for both.
Now, Willingham and Smith have ventured into really sacred territory. Smith said on national television that UNC should voluntarily take down the banners of the 2005 and 2009 national basketball champions. This week, Willingham tweeted: “’05 UNC basketball champs starting 5 +1 took a combined 69 paper classes.”
The general public has seemed to move on, but the Twitter Geeks have scrutinized and analyzed her infamous tweet, and most of them have concluded that it is more misguided hyperbole from Willingham. Earlier in the week, Smith tried to back off his suggestion of taking down the banners as “half in jest” because it would be the “honorable” thing to do. Are you kidding us, Jay?
Look, if UNC was really a school with a corrupt history and bandit athletic department, some of this fire from within might be justified. But with all the work that has been done to correct the lack of oversight and mismanagement of the last athletic administration – see the new website on the numerous reforms that have been made – why would Willingham and Smith continue attacking the institution that has employed and paid them for so long? This hasn’t exactly been a hundred-year scandal.
And because they lack savvy (or are pretty stupid in this regard), they are now going after a basketball program that has been the face of the university for almost half a century, a program that has produced nine Hall of Famers, more than 2,000 victories, five national championships and so much joy for millions of people that, whether they realize it or not, Smith and Willingham are risking professional suicide.
Screw with football, which had some really bad hires over 15 years and was not properly managed by an athletic director who now looks like he was asleep at the wheel; but DO NOT screw with a basketball program that has been the model for many across the country, created a brand known around the world, increased the applicant pool exponentially and raised multi-millions for the school.
Sean May, the Most Outstanding Player in the 2005 Final Four, acknowledged years ago that he switched from a double major to AFAM because there were more independent study courses so he could graduate earlier when he turned pro after his junior year.
The students who wound up in these so-called paper classes came in three categories: 1) those like May who needed less class time to graduate; 2) those who were looking for easy courses (like hundreds of thousands of students on campuses across the country; and 3) the relatively few who were steered there, given improper help and, yes, were “cheated” out of the college education they supposedly expected to get when they signed scholarships. That’s pretty easy to say now, 5-10 years later, when back then it was more of a ticket to a better life than necessarily a college degree.
And despite some in the media’s claims about “fake” or “no-show” classes, there were no athletes (or students) who signed up for classes that did not exist, athletes who did not have a scheduled first meeting of an independent study course or, at the end of the semester, athletes who found that a grade had magically appeared on their transcripts. None of that has ever been proven.
Roy Williams is not only a great basketball coach, he has had an exemplary record of graduating his players at Kansas and Carolina. Only one four-year player he’s had at UNC did not graduate. The basketball team’s APR (Academic Progress Rating) is nowhere near the 925 baseline that banned current national champion Connecticut from the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Were some of Roy’s boys exceptional students, like National Academic Player of the Year Tyler Zeller? Certainly. Were most of them solid students who earned their degrees in four years or, if they left early for the NBA, came back to complete their class work? Just as certainly. And were there a few who were so-called special admits, who wanted, needed and received all the help they could get to make it through school? No question.
But when you start calling for banners to come down or calling out players who, without mentioning their names, we KNOW who you are talking about, that is as wrong and irresponsible as you can get.
The NCAA “cartel” that Willingham now mimics in every other tweet is a completely different issue. It’s about athletes getting a piece of what has become a billion-dollar industry. She is a pawn to help their contention that some athletes did not get the full value of a college scholarship.
The Ed O’Bannon case and people behind it are using whistle blowers like Willingham to support their claim that athletes should get paid, retroactively and moving forward, because her story that some of them do not receive the education they are promised sounds good and supports their cause.
Smith and Willingham should be ashamed of themselves for making what happened here so public with so much misleading information and wild statements. They both should go work somewhere else. And they both probably will.
Listen to Art Chansky’s commentary on Willingham’s tweet: