The following editorial appeared in the Greensboro News & Record:
The academic dishonesty at UNC-Chapel Hill has been exposed, but the university has not been punished. When it comes, the penalty could be unthinkable for Carolina basketball fans: losing a national championship.
Most of the attention on no-show, paper classes has landed on the football program. But other than some minor bowl games, the Tar Heel football team never won anything while the 18-year scandal was running its course – no Atlantic Coast Conference titles, let along a national championship.
Basketball is different. North Carolina basketball is an elite program, frequently a national contender and occasionally the best. It captured titles in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009.
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The 2005 team has fallen under increased scrutiny since last month’s release of an investigative report by former Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein. Supporting documents examined by The News & Observer showed 35 enrollments by basketball team members in paper classes during the 2004-2005 academic year. Individual players are not identified, although Rashad McCants reportedly took four such classes during the 2005 spring semester and made an A-minus in each.
The classes were offered by the African and Afro-American Studies Department. Administrator Deborah Crowder, who was not a faculty member, admitted to Wainstein that she graded students’ papers, usually without reading them.
Winning a championship with only one player whose academic qualifications were suspect is a problem; if four or five were taking bogus classes while they were driving to a championship, questions are raised about the legitimacy of the accomplishment. Participants in National Collegiate Athletic Association events are supposed to be bonafide college students. If some were less than that, everyone wasn’t competing on a level field.
While the NCAA continues an investigation into academic integrity issues, Chancellor Carol Folt has a choice. She can wait for the NCAA to decide appropriate penalties, or she can take steps herself to set things right.
Folt came to North Carolina last year from Dartmouth College, an Ivy League institution with strong academics and relatively small-time athletics. The idea of an athlete competing without attending class must be foreign to her experience.
UNC is correcting its academic leniency, which was mostly the product of a few unscrupulous individuals. Unfortunately, the university may have gained by fraud. Will it seek to keep its gains?
Part of the calculation may be the likelihood that the NCAA will strip UNC of its 2005 title. If that’s probable, the university would be better off to give it up first, admitting it was unfairly won. That would show a true desire to correct past mistakes.
Folt knows which athletes were enrolled in classes they didn’t attend and received grades they didn’t earn. She knows whether punishment is deserved. She knows the cost of winning and what’s too high a price for a university that once stood for integrity and must do so again.
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