SBJ/April 10-16, 2017/Colleges

Roundtable: Tar Heels’ academic scandal

Editor’s note: This is part of our sports media roundtable from the Final Four. For the main portion, click here.

O’NEIL: As arrogant as (UNC Athletic Director) Bubba Cunningham’s argument was, that “How dare you, this is not in the NCAA’s wheelhouse,” he is correct. The NCAA has long argued that it has no jurisdiction on the academic worth of a class. The NCAA has painted itself into a very unique corner because people want blood for this. You tweet something like “Kentucky lost” and what comes back is “Why aren’t you investigating Carolina?” People want blood and I don’t think they’re going to get it.

ELMORE: It still comes down to: “Did you receive a benefit other students didn’t?”

O’NEIL: They did not.

ELMORE: From that standpoint, it’s going to be hard, but you can’t say you’re eligible if you didn’t show up and take the class.

O’NEIL: But a benefit is something afforded to the athlete not available to the common student. These fraudulent classes, as baloney as this sounds, were available to the common student.

Dana O’Neil on UNC: “People want blood and I don’t think they’re going to get it.”
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


ELMORE: My problem would be if the coaches knew about it, and if they steered them, even worse.

FORDE: Almost everyone agrees that there was incredible academic fraud that went on with their players and teams that won national titles. Which rule does it fit into? How can you punish them? If they skate, people are going to go crazy.

O’NEIL: People want the banners down. People want postseason bans. They’re not going to get it.

WOLKEN: Part of the theater that makes this so entertaining is that the SEC commissioner is head of the Committee on Infractions, and North Carolina has already signaled that they’re going to play that card should they get punished. I don’t envy the NCAA on this. But from a journalistic standpoint, I just think it’s phenomenal.

ELMORE: What do they want (SEC Commissioner Greg) Sankey to do? Recuse himself? Who do they put in his place?

FORDE: (ACC Commissioner) John Swofford. (laughs)

WOLKEN: From an optics standpoint, Sankey probably should have stepped down from the committee on infractions. I just think it’s a lot cleaner that way. Not that I would impugn his integrity in any way; he’s got all kinds of experience. But North Carolina has signaled that they’re going to play that card.

ELMORE: Carolina is on their best behavior now, which is a positive thing.

BOIVIN: I was sitting at the open practices watching North Carolina with a bunch of basketball fans and nobody really knew that much about this story.

O’NEIL: It’s so complicated.

BOIVIN: There are so many layers to it.

O’NEIL: I do wonder, with the questions about paying athletes, I think the appetite for NCAA scandal, absent escorts, has tempered. I don’t think people get as offended if they think a kid is getting a thousand bucks from an agent.

BOIVIN: It’s like the steroid thing. There was uproar and then, eh.

Podcast highlights from the discussion:


O’NEIL: The enforcement staff has had so much turnover the median age is like 22. It’s like sending my 16-year-old daughter out to investigate a crime. They don’t have the contacts or the experience.

ELMORE: Any corporation that has a scandal that needs investigating, they don’t do it in-house. They go outside. The analogy is the same.

FORDE: It would be cleaner that way. It’s just a matter of who.

ELMORE: Every law firm in America is raising their hand.

WOLKEN: There’s no way any entity could investigate and prosecute all of the cheating. All the NCAA wants is to give the threat of consequences. … If they wanted to put another $10 million into enforcement, they could, but the schools choose not to. They want just enough enforcement to make it look like they’re doing something.

FORDE: Plausible deniability.

O’NEIL: Well intentioned, but full of pitfalls. All the kids who aren’t taking labs now, they’re definitely not going to be taking labs. They’re all going to take simple classes. You think North Carolina committed some academic fraud? Open it up. It’s going to make a mess.

WOLKEN: The biggest problem with the NCAA — I heard this from Jay Bilas — stay in your lane. There are 1,100 schools in the NCAA and they all have different missions. To try to hold them all to the same standard is ridiculous. That doesn’t reflect the reality of how they treat the regular student body.

O’NEIL: The NCAA also has been adamant, going back to the Carolina investigation, that they’re not in the business of telling schools whether a course is worthy or not. And now they’re going to give people money for academic achievement. You’re talking out of two sides of your mouth. They’ve been adamant about staying out of academics.

FORDE: How come nobody is academically ineligible anymore? They found a way to keep them eligible and they’ll do the same way with this.

ELMORE: It’s all optics.

WOLKEN: I think the word for it now is virtue signaling. It’s virtue signaling without the virtue.

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