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Opinion: Will the NCAA Ever Penalize North Carolina?

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Copyright 2017 Chattanooga Publishing Company
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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)

 

Now that the NCAA has decided to return its men's basketball tournament sites to the state of North Carolina, a more contentious question begs asking.

As in, when is college athletics' governing body finally going to ban the University of North Carolina Tar Heels from playing in that tournament for its hosting of one of the worst academic fraud scandals in NCAA history?

After all, it was relatively easy for the NCAA to boycott the state over its "bathroom bill," including removing an opening-weekend NCAA tourney site from Greensboro last month and shipping it to Greenville, S.C. Agree or not with the bill concerning where transgender folks should use the facilities, the N.C. state legislature sort of/kind of agreeing to reverse Bill H2 in recent weeks to fall in line with the majority of the rest of the country's thinking made more than good sense, both financially and ethically.

But that may serve only to further anger a nation full of college basketball fans who continue to have a hard time understanding how you can give fraudulent grades to athletes and other students for 18 years, have at least a few of those athletes allegedly help you win at least one NCAA men's title and not wind up with so much as a double-secret probation for such misdeeds.

This is not to say that the most recent of the Tar Heels' six titles — won 16 days ago in Phoenix — appears to be tainted in any way. From senior post players Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks to junior guard Joel Berry and junior wing Justin Jackson, these guys all seem to be bright, witty, determined students. You know, the kind of young people the late UNC coaching legend Dean Smith once surrounded himself with before his beloved "Carolina Way" became more punchline than guideline following his retirement.

So any talk of stripping away this latest crown should probably end before it seriously begins. It's not these players' fault that the school used to hand out grades like Halloween candy in its African and Afro-American Studies courses, especially around the time Roy Williams' second UNC squad was on its way to winning the 2005 title, which was Ol' Roy's first as a head coach.

And while there are other issues regarding the Tar Heels' 2009 title, such as how UNC star Tyler Hansbrough's mom Tami landed a $95,000-a-year fundraising job with the school while he was still playing, the academic shenanigans are said to have, at the most, barely brushed that squad.

Still, just last week it was reported that University of Maryland president Wallace Loh said of the Tar Heels' academic mess: "For the things that happened in North Carolina, it's abysmal. I would think that this would lead to the implementation of the death penalty by the NCAA. But I'm not in charge of that."

In what was truly a highbrow response from UNC, Ol' Roy indicated Loh was "a double idiot."

The problem is, an NCAA investigation into the academic chicanery of the entire athletic department — but mostly football and men's and women's basketball — has pretty much led anyone who's read anything about it to ask who is in charge of the investigation?

Yes, it's still officially open. Yes, just this week there have been sentences handed down to unscrupulous sports agents for illegally supplying three Tar Heels football players with thousands of dollars.

In fact, from that initial 2010 sports agent investigation have come the academic fraud charges. Beyond that, the Tar Heels supposedly are still facing five serious NCAA charges, including the dreaded lack of institutional control, over the academic fraud mess.

But they haven't yet been hammered on any of them, which might be why some have come to refer to the NCAA as the North Carolina Athletic Association.

After all, if this had been UNLV or North Texas or Florida Atlantic, is there any doubt the NCAA would already have shut down those programs? But because it's UNC, there is at least a theory that the NCAA will do nothing until no one remembers there was anything worth doing something about.

One other thing, though it has nothing to do with UNC's academic mess. When Williams and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski blasted the bathroom law -- Coach K called it "stupid" -- it may not have been as much about ethics and human decency as they wanted the world to think it was.

In all-time NCAA tournament games played in the state of North Carolina, the Tar Heels are 33-1 while the Blue Devils stand 34-6. It would be hard to find any other schools anywhere, other than perhaps UCLA, who have played so many times on native soil in a supposedly neutral-site event.

Still, those are minor annoyances for the rest of the major college athletics community compared to the double standard that it more and more feels exists for UNC.

Or as Loh said, "As president I sit over a number of dormant volcanoes. One of them is an athletic scandal. It blows up, it blows up the university, its reputation, it blows up the president."

Unless, apparently, you're the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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April 19, 2017
 
 
 

 

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