I'm still trying to wrap my head around the scandal at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that involved as many as 3,100 students covering 18 years while taking sham courses in African American studies whose primary objective was to inflate grade point averages.
This is particularly significant in light of the fact that nearly 1,500 of those students — about 47 percent — were athletes, mostly from the vaunted men's and women's basketball teams as well as the Tar Heel football team. The easy "paper" courses apparently were designed to help keep academically struggling athletes — some, apparently, who could barely read at an elementary school level — eligible in their sports
Those mind-blowng and unprecedented numbers were released Wednesday following a detailed report by hired investigator Kenneth Wainstein, a former US Department of Justice official now representing the respected law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.
Now it's the NCAA's turn. Originally an academic issue, the question now involves athletics, and the NCAA is reopening its previous investigation (some football players were provided extra benefits, which led to the dismissal of coach Butch Davis) no doubt using Wainstein's report as a template.
The NCAA? Knees used to buckle when the NCAA threatened an investigation. In 1986 the organization handed Southern Methodist University's football team the so-called "death penalty" for severe violations of NCAA rules and regulations and it took the Mustangs nearly 20 years to recover.
It may be telling to say that that particular "death penalty" is the only one issued by the NCAA to date. Apparently, no other massive violations of the NCAA rule book have occurred since then. Yeah, right.
No wonder faith in the NCAA's mission is faltering. If the primary purpose for its existence is to provide an education for athletes, it better learn to be tough, consistent and fair — and without an eye to revenue producers such as sold-out arenas, television contracts and merchandise licensing. Ah, yes. Money. Always money.
There is a four-year statute of limitations in the NCAA concerning investigations, although there is an NCAA handbook bylaw loophole that states "a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution" or indication of "a blatant disregard for ... recruiting, extra-benefit, academic or ethical conduct bylaws ..." can open and expand an investigation beyond four years.
I think that needs to happen here. We'll see.
The UNC scandal is far reaching. It goes back to 1993. If the NCAA should decide on a death penalty, it could vacate the national basketball championships of 1993, 2005 and 2009, thus tainting, among others, venerable coach Dean Smith.
I have a number of friends who are Tar Heel diehards. Some are embarrassed and ashamed by all this; some defend the school by pointing out this type of subterfuge happens at nearly all major programs (although I'm not sure it happens for 18 years, which implies knowledge and cover-up to keep it going) and so what? I feel badly for all of them who call UNC "alma mater."
A university is also community, so in the end, this affects us all, even if we didn't attend UNC. We should all be appalled. Offended. And saddened.