Watch any NCAA sports programming and you are bombarded with tributes to the noble, valiant STUDENT ATHLETE, the scholar who sacrifices his or her study time and physical and emotion well-being by giving up any and all free time to pursue the difficult world of amateur athletics. What hogwash. For the schools and for the NCAA, the student-athlete is a money-making pawn, with small schools and non-revenue-producing programs the scorned and largely abandoned stepchildren to the major programs in the massive revenue sports of football and basketball. To reap the benefits of the millions and millions of dollars winning schools regularly see flowing into their coffers, there is little regard for academics, or rules in general, that could prevent that flow of riches.
But the NCAA and Division I schools have their own more powerful enemies, and those enemies are to a lessor extent the NFL, and to a massive extent, the NBA, professional
leagues that now make it their standard operating procedure to rob the best schools of the best players at every opportunity, changing forever the traditional hold that schools have had over their “Student” athletes. It is now the norm, as far as basketball is concerned, that the very best players are automatically “One and Out” from most schools, and while some have had the wherewithal to keep their players for two, three, or even the old usual four years, it is now accepted across the land that the top guys will be signing that multi-million dollar contract by the time they reach their 19th birthday.
There are ways to overhaul this current debacle facing all concerned, from the “Student” athletes themselves, to the schools, and to the fans, but more about that later. First, exactly how far are some schools willing to go to keep their ”Student” athletes in school and on the playing field? The NCAA has over the years wielded its extreme power against major programs in many cases with unfair policies where those responsible for the most reprehensible of behavior being long gone with new players, coaches, administrators, alumni, and fans, left to suffer the consequences. But, in some cases, really bad stuff has gone on with little more than a slap on the wrist. A lot of this is due to the lengthy time period that the NCAA takes for its investigations, including just getting started. And thus we get to the 2016-7 NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion University of North Carolina Tar Heels, and what might well be the most extensive and long-term scandal in the history of university sports in the USA.
UNC, now winners of six NCAA tiles under three different coaches, has had one of the most successful college basketball programs in history. They also play Division I football, though without the success of their basketball program, but they are always out there trying, in more ways than one.
Due in large part to an investigation conducted by Raleigh, NC’s News & Observer newspaper, it has now been established that for years and years and years a large-scale conspiracy has been present to ensure the academic well-being of athletes enrolled at the university, primarily those playing basketball and football, and that a host of athletic department employees, faculty members and administrators have covered up and outright lied about the conspiracy and its underlying elements, which has institutionalized the
policy of the school to enroll athletes in non-existent classes, in classes where the hardest thing the enrollees had to do was show up to the classroom where they could then spend the class period napping, and to provide pre-written term papers where needed. Grades? Well, high grades were of course part of the deal, but the other purpose of this was to keep the athletes on the field and not cut into their practice time by burdening them with schoolwork.
Factual information now widely released shows that all this went on at the University of North Carolina for TWO DECADES, until the first information began to be uncovered in 2013. Back to the NCAA for a movement: Yes, some of this information began to be known as far back as 2013, but it was not until December of 2016 that the NCAA submitted its accusations of rules violation to UNC.
While denials and outright lies had been the standard University response to questions about all of this, documents, such as emails, eventually released have shown such things as a Chairman of the school’s Board of Governors writing in an email that he had repeatedly asked administrators to purge people who were involved in “fake classes”. Enough has come out about all this to fill a book – in fact that book, written by historian Jay Smith and entitled “Cheated” HAS been written. Smith has been quoted in the New York Times as follows:
“The university is operating like a crime family, and it shows the lengths to which they will go to protect their athletic machine.”
As was the case with the scandals at Baylor University about which I have frequently written in the past, the University eventually commissioned its own investigation, and they did not like the results. UNC hired a former Deputy US Attorney General by the name of Kenneth Weinstein, and the report of his findings included the following, as reported by Michael Powell of the New York Times:
“3,100 students had received one or more semesters of lousy instruction and that poor work found reward in high grades. Student athletes, particularly those from the “revenue sports” – basketball and football – were steered to these poor or nonexistent courses, and in some cases, they were told they could sleep in class.”
Weinstein found that large numbers of faculty, deans and athletic department personnel were well aware of all of this. He further took a sample of class papers for analysis by outside experts who found that 40% of the samples were plagiarized to a significant extent.
So, just what is the University of North Carolina’s position on all of this. Bear in mind that
during the period of all this, the men’s basketball team won three National Championships and that the NCAA has to power to strip the school of those Championships. Well the school has told the NCAA that, yes, all this has been going on, but it’s none of your business! They have taken the position that the NCAA should have done something sooner and have now waived their right to sanction the school, and that the issues are now between UNC and various accreditation organizations.
What the NCAA should, and must, do, is to strip away those titles, take away scholarships, prohibit the school from post-season participation in men’s basketball and football and any other involved sports for five years, and prohibit any of the school’s games from being televised for three years. That would be the appropriate athletic sanction. Then those accreditation organizations can have their piece of the action as well.
So what about the big picture of the current state of big-time college sports and “Student” athletes? First let me say that I’m sure that out there among all the schools that play big-time sports there are some smart, dedicated, talented STUDENT athletes, but I’m sure not nearly as high a percentage as there use to be. I attended UCLA during the first four years of their seven-year stretch of NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships under John Wooden, and those teams has some really smart STUDENT athletes. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then still Lew Alcindor) has become a nationally known historian and author, and three-year starting forward Kenny Heinz went on to Harvard Law School and a long-time career as an attorney and later as CEO for several financial institutions. Former trojan Klown Kollege quarterback Pat Haden became a Rhodes Scholar. Former UCLA Bruins’ wide receiver Cormac Carney, also a Harvard Law School graduate, has served for many years with great distinction as a Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
But things are very different today, and it’s time to take the sport of sports out of the college and university system. There are two ways to accomplish this. One is to end athletic scholarships. This would certainly remove all those Non-Student athletes from the system, and I see that as a good thing. But, the downside is that there are at least some, here and there, deserving “Student” athletes that have earned and do deserve scholarships, and for that reason I would not advocate their elimination. There is a better way – simply make all athletes subject to the same admittance qualifications as other students. If UCLA requires students in general to have an A+ grade point average and receive a 1600 score on the SAT, no longer would an athlete be admitted with a B- average and 1200 on the SAT. Similarly, if the sc Klown Kollege requires its admittees to have a C- grade point average and 500 on the SAT, no longer will there be football players running around the campus with their D- GPAs and 300 SAT scores.
Let top universities have football and basketball teams made up of STUDENT athletes, and let the chips fall where there may. Let the NFL and the NBA start their own minor leagues, as in baseball, for their prospects to play ball without having to fake going to class for a year or four. And let the billionaires who own NFL and NBA franchises and who pay their
commissioners tens of millions of dollars per year pay for those athletes and those leagues, as they should have been doing for a couple of generations.
No more UNCs and no more Baylors. Universities are for learning, not for fake classes and recycled term papers. And not for one-and-out non-students to apprentice for million-dollar professional contracts.