Attorneys for two former UNC-Chapel Hill athletes filed a class-action lawsuit against the university and the NCAA on Thursday with the goal of ensuring athletes at all major college sports programs receive the education they are promised in exchange for playing sports.
The lawsuit is the second class-action case against UNC involving the scheme that for 18 years helped keep athletes eligible before it was exposed in 2011. But the attorneys in this case say they have set their sights wider, on big-money college sports programs and the institution that monitors them.
“This suit not only focuses on the specific fraud at UNC, but says that fraud was nothing more than an integral, foreseeable part of the entire enterprise of big-time contemporary college athletics, in which academics is truly the stepchild to athletics, and the meaningful education that the NCAA promises and commits to is nothing more than an illusion,” said Michael Hausfeld, a Washington, D.C., lawyer.
The suit calls for monetary damages for athletes harmed by the fake classes, and for the creation of an independent commission to “review, audit, assess, and report on academic integrity in NCAA-member athletic programs and certify (the colleges provide) comparable educations and educational opportunities to athletes and non-athletes alike.”
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The suit identifies former women’s basketball player Rashanda McCants and former football player Devon Ramsay as directly harmed by the fake classes. McCants was enrolled in two fake classes, while Ramsay took one.
McCants is the younger sister of Rashad McCants, a starter on the 2005 UNC men’s basketball team that won the national championship. He appearedon ESPN last year to disclose that the fake classes made up a high percentage of his classes at UNC.
Ramsay was wrongly kicked off the football team in 2010 over improper help from a former tutor. His attorney, Robert Orr, convinced the NCAA that Ramsay had done nothing wrong. Ramsay returned to the team but then suffered a career-ending knee injury. Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice, is co-counsel for the athletes.
A class-action suit must be certified by a judge to allow multiple defendants to sue at the same time. UNC and NCAA officials said they could not comment on the suit because they had not seen it.
Pursuing other schools
Hausfeld represented former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon and other athletes in an antitrust case against the NCAA, is representing former UNC athletes in the new lawsuit, which was filed in state Superior Court in Durham. Last summer, the federal judge who heard the O’Bannon case found that athletes should receive some money for the use of their names, images and likenesses. The NCAA has appealed that decision.
The 100-page lawsuit filed Thursday cites numerous academic fraud cases involving athletes at colleges across the country, including independent study controversies at Auburn University and the University of Michigan that drew little NCAA action. The lawyers contend colleges are so focused on winning and bringing in more money that athletes have little time for school, creating a motive for academic fraud.
The suit is the second filed after former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein released a report in October finding that athletes were steered to the classes for at least 18 years. The first was filed in federal court by Michael McAdoo, a former football player who had been kicked off the team in 2010 after the NCAA found he had received improper help from a former tutor. His lawsuit is open to UNC football players who had received athletic scholarships.
Wainstein found that roughly 3,100 students took at least one fake class from 1993 to 2011. About half of those students were athletes, with the revenue-generating football and men’s basketball teams having sizable representations in the classes. The report said pressure from the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes led Deborah Crowder to create the fake classes.
Several academic support employees knew the classes had no instruction. They and others in the program told Wainstein that they viewed their jobs as keeping athletes eligible to play sports. The NCAA is re-investigating the case and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Accreditation has started a second investigation.
The UNC scandal has caused numerous schools around the country to examine the educations their athletes are receiving, including the top two ranked schools in the Associated Press men’s college basketball poll – the University of Kentucky and the University of Virginia.
Academic fraud investigations by the NCAA also appear to be on the rise. NCAA officials told The Chronicle of Higher Education in a report this week that they have opened academic fraud investigations at 20 college campuses. They did not identify the schools.