Sacrificing Academics on the altar of big-time athletics

By Scott Mooneyham | Feb 18, 2013

RALEIGH — One of the more astounding aspects of the scandal that has enveloped the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its athletics program is how willing the powers-that-be have been to throw academics under the proverbial bus.

Whether Chancellor Holden Thorp, former Gov. Jim Martin and his alleged independent investigation, or the UNC Board of Governors, pretty much every one in a position of authority appears willing to put the blame on an academic department rather than point fingers at the athletics department.

Tarnishing the university's academic reputation apparently is a price to be paid if it means keeping critical eyes off of athletics.

Just recently, Board of Governors member Louis Bissette, who headed yet another panel looking into the scandal, called it "terrible," "embarrassing" and "inexcusable."

Then he concluded that there was no evidence to support a conspiracy between the university's athletics department and African and Afro-American Studies Department, which offered dozens of bogus courses over several years. He went on to say that no one may ever know whether athletes were steered to classes.

Actually, Mr. Bissette, anyone with a brain knows that athletes were steered to the courses.

Eighteen football players did not discover one of these classes on their own, by osmosis, within three days of the course being created. A star incoming freshman football player was not led to a bogus course during his first summer on campus by a woodland fairy.

Bissette noted that the panel he led was not "an investigative body."

He stated the obvious there.

He, and no one else in a position of authority, cared to ask hard questions.

No one apparently asked who, within the athletic department, tracked athletes academic eligibility status. What did they do when players' grade-point-averages fell to levels that put them in jeopardy of being ruled ineligible? Did the people charged with this task ever talk to Julius Nyang'oro, the person whom Bissette and Martin and Thorp would have everyone believe concocted this scheme?

Perhaps the good folks on the Board of Governors and within the UNC administration believed there would be no fallout from putting the blame on academics.

They may have miscalculated.

The school's accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges, says it needs to ensure the legitimacy of degrees awarded to graduates in the African and Afro-American Studies program. The group's head suggests that the school may want to bring students back and have them make up for the classes.

Can you imagine receiving that letter in the mail?

To this suggestion, Thorp responded that "none of this was the students' fault."

He is right, at least for those who sought a legitimate education in what was sanctioned as a legitimate degree program.

So, here is a suggestion for those students: Your reply to the university ought to come from a lawyer, perhaps one who attended a school like Wake Forest or Duke, whose academics have not been put into question by its administrators.