Are we really surprised?

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is considered one of the 40 or 50 best colleges in the United States, according to several publications who rank that sort of thing.  Despite being a public institution, UNC maintains its annual standing as a purveyor of academic excellence because of rigorous academics, a stringent code of honor, and a well-rounded curriculum.

To demonstrate the point I’m about to make, UNC is probably better known for it’s men’s basketball program, winner of five national championships and home to countless NBA professionals.

Recently, UNC has been accused of academic fraud.  Notably for offering classes that did not require attendance, didn’t have an actual teacher, and only awarded A’s and B’s.  Not surprisingly, these classes were wildly popular with student athletes, as they knew they could bomb another class, but the A they received in these blow off classes would be enough of a GPA booster to keep them eligible.

As you can see, this was the opposite of peanut butter and graham crackers, which it to say it wasn’t good.  A few years ago, students at both Notre Dame and Harvard were punished because of a cheating scandal.  Not to downplay those scenarios, but these situations pale in comparison to UNC’s dilemma, because part of the administration was involved in this blatant instance of fraud.  Obviously, teachers, coaches, and the students who participated in these classes must be punished.  Right?

UNC’s basketball program is worth nearly $26 million, according to Forbes.  The cost of attending UNC for one year is about $9000 if you live in North Carolina, and about $16,000 if you come from out-of-state, according to the UNC financial aid department.  This makes UNC the third most valuable basketball program in the country, while having one of the lowest costs of attendance among any American college.  Since a college basketball team is allowed to hand out 13 scholarships, that allows the school a huge return on their investments.

I don’t want to downplay the significance of these academic fraud allegations, but allow me to briefly demonstrate a valid argument:  the number one goal of a college basketball coach is to get the young men he wants on his basketball team.  Once he gets these m….hang on.  No.  Boys.  They are between the ages of 18-22, so these are still kids.  Once he gets these kids on his team, he is effectively their legal guardian, and therefore responsible for their well-being.  If Roy Williams, the coach of UNC was aware of these fraudulent classes and allowed his players to partake in order to stay eligible, then he should be fired immediately and banned from college basketball for the rest of his life.  Yes, some of his players will go to the NBA, so it doesn’t matter what their grades or what classes they took.  However, playing for the UNC Tarheels will be the high point for most of his players, and they need to look ahead to life after basketball.

These kids are not paid.  Their scholarship, which covers their tuition, is their payment.  Offering and allowing basketball players, or any athlete for that matter, to participate in a blow off class like that shows the school has no interest in defending their academic principles.  They aren’t setting these kids up with a quality education, and it will hurt them down the road, but the school couldn’t care less, because they made nearly $30 million a year from these players.

I feel the NBA is partially to blame too.  Since their rule was implemented forcing draftees to be at least one-year removed from high school, they are effectively forcing these kids to attend college.  Since colleges are faced with an excess of kids who really don’t have any interest in being there and are just using their college team as a stepping stone for an NBA career, the introduction of blow off classes becomes necessary.  You can’t expect a kid with no interest in academics to even pretend to care about basic biology or principles of human interaction.  Derrick Rose, for example, had to fake his SAT scores to attend college to play basketball.  Sure, he was the number 1 pick in the draft and is now making around $40 million a year, but what would’ve happened if Rose wasn’t considered an NBA level prospect?  Asking him to go into the “real world” with a bogus college education would’ve been like asking Jack Macbreyer to knock out a young Mike Tyson with one punch.

What about injuries?  Marcus Lattimore, a former NFL running back, recently retired at age 23.  When he was 20, he was considered one of the best running back prospects in years while he was attending the University of South Carolina.  Then he tore his ACL.  That killed his draft stock, putting him as low as the third round in some people’s minds.  Before the injury he would’ve been a top 5 selection.  Instead of just going pro and taking a small payout, Lattimore gambled on himself and stayed in college, trying to have a big year to boost his draft stock.  And he was doing well, too, until a dislocated knee and torn ACL derailed that comeback attempt.  Lattimore did end up getting drafted, but never played a down and is now out of the league after 2 seasons.  Imagine if he was in UNC’s curriculum, taking bogus classes for good grades just so he can stay eligible.  Then he gets two devastating knee injuries, his football career is over, and he’s stuck with nothing.

If a school offers a class where a player is guaranteed an A, he would be stupid not to take it.  That’s how a 19 year old’s brain works, especially an athlete.  Playing sports is what’s most important at that time, so they are going to take every necessary step to ensure they are able to continue their pursuit of sports.  Life after college never really hits them until later.  Some may argue these are fully capable adults, and they chose to partake in a class they knew wasn’t real.  But with the ridiculous practice hours, the training regimens, meetings, and other classes, is it really that bad for a player to enroll in a fake class to boost their GPA?

I’m not saying players are entirely innocent.  But there is a big difference between me, a normal guy who wants a normal job and needs to try hard and do well to make sure I live a comfortable life, and the starting small forward for the UNC Tarheels, an exceptionally athletically gifted individual whose main goal is to win a national title in his next four years.  I have a plan of action because college is just a stepping stone for my road of life.  Playing college basketball will likely be the best years of his life, so it’s important for him to ensure he maximizes his enjoyment.

Just keep in mind, the mess UNC finds itself in isn’t the result of corrupt and morally bankrupt students attempting to cheat the system, it’s an entire administration of adults completely and utterly failing these kids.


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