UNC-Chapel Hill has two Hall of Fame basketball coaches who each have at least one national championship on their resumes: Sylvia Hatchell and Roy Williams.
Hatchell is the second winningest women’s coach in NCAA history; Williams was the fastest men’s coach to 700 wins. Both have been coaching for more than 25 years and have nearly always taken their teams to the NCAA tournament.
But as the NCAA case involving serious allegations against both programs grinds toward likely sanctions, Williams, 65, has won a lucrative contract extension; Hatchell, 63, is without one.
UNC officials aren’t explaining why two top-flight coaches would be treated differently. As a result, the university has attracted questions about whether it is sacrificing Hatchell and her program to spare the men’s basketball program from harsh NCAA sanctions. Neither coach has been accused of doing anything wrong.
Since the NCAA hit UNC with allegations of five major infractions, including a lack of institutional control, Hatchell has seen her team take a heavy blow. Three recruits from a stellar 2013 recruiting season have left for other schools. One transferred days before the allegations arrived at UNC; the other two in the following weeks. A fourth left a year ago, after a season in which Hatchell stepped away to undergo chemotherapy to combat leukemia. Hatchell so far has held onto this season’s recruiting class, which includes two high school All-Americans.
On Friday, UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said more evidence emerged that a few more former women basketball players had received improper academic help. He said that information had been shared with the NCAA. This development is likely to push back a hearing on the NCAA’s allegations at least by two months.
On the men’s side, Williams continues to field an experienced team already touted as a favorite for the 2016 national championship. Only one player left – for the NBA, and not out of fear of a tournament ban. Top high school prospects, however, have shown concern about possible sanctions and have chosen other schools, including archrival Duke.
Cunningham’s announcement makes it more likely that the men’s team will finish the upcoming season before the NCAA decides penalties.
Football recruits have said coach Larry Fedora told them the NCAA won’t hurt his program, based on the advice of UNC’s lawyers. Fedora has not discussed specifics, but said he felt “confident things were going to turn out good.”
Last month, Meghan Austin, a former player of Hatchell’s and now a coach herself, drew national attention to the differing perceptions of the men’s and women’s programs in a column published in The News & Observer. She claimed that UNC is sacrificing Hatchell and her program to the NCAA to spare men’s basketball and football.
“With the NCAA allegations, I am trying to wrap my head around how the women’s basketball team has been made the scapegoat in all of this,” wrote Austin, the women’s basketball coach at Montreat College near Asheville. “Our program was not the only team in the report, yet we are the ones being talked about the most. Roy Williams and his program were in the report, and he got a contract extension. The football program was in the report, and its coaching staff was confident enough to tell recruits that they will not receive any repercussions from the NCAA investigation.”
Among those who tweeted the link to Austin’s column: Chamique Holdsclaw, a former University of Tennessee and WNBA star; and Nicole LaVoi, a University of Minnesota professor and advocate for women’s sports.
“The war on Women Coaches is real,” LaVoi tweeted. She later said in an email she knew little about the case.
In an interview last month, Cunningham declined to discuss the details of Hatchell’s contract situation. He typically does not comment on personnel matters. Her contract ends in 2018; Williams’ extension keeps him at UNC until 2020.
“I have immense respect for Coach Hatchell and her career and the success that she’s had,” Cunningham said. “I’m delighted that she’s contracted through 2018. And as we do with all of our teams, I’ll review her situation, her team’s situation, at the end of (next) season.”
On Friday, he said he continued to have confidence in the program’s coaching staff.
Bringing the money
Men’s basketball and football are the money-making sports at UNC and other top Division I schools. Men’s basketball feeds the coffers of the NCAA. The organization collected nearly a billion dollars in revenue last year, USA Today reported, nearly all of it from the “March Madness” tournament. The majority of the money goes back to the member schools.
Women’s sports typically lose money, but universities are required under the federal anti-discrimination Title IX law to carry them if they want to have men’s programs.
UNC’s football and men’s basketball teams were the two highest in terms of enrollments in the fake classes within the African studies department, according to the most in-depth investigation into the scandal, which was led by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. Over an 18-year period, more than 3,100 students enrolled in the fake classes; roughly half of them were athletes.
There were two types of bogus classes: lecture classes that never met, and independent studies that had no instruction. Football players accounted for 963 enrollments in the classes that were listed as lectures, which began in 1999, while men’s basketball accounted for 226. Football teams include roughly seven times as many athletes as basketball.
Men’s basketball had nearly double the 114 enrollments of the women’s basketball team.
The disparity is even greater in the independent studies, which began in 1993. Men’s basketball players were in these classes from the beginning, while the women don’t show up in significant numbers until 1998. By 1999, when the fake lecture classes were added to the scam, the men’s team had 57 independent studies enrollments, compared with 15 enrollments for the women. (Wainstein said at least half of all the independent studies offered had no instruction.)
The Boxill factor
The ‘scapegoat’ speculation comes at a time when UNC is drafting its response to the NCAA’s enforcement division. UNC could seek to pursue an agreement with the NCAA’s enforcement division on sanctions and penalties. Known as a summary disposition, it’s a way to avoid a lengthy hearing before the Committee on Infractions, a panel of athletic and academic officials who mete out punishment.
It’s up to the committee to accept such summary dispositions; it can reject them entirely and proceed to a hearing, or simply hit the universities with tougher penalties. Stuart Brown, an attorney who represents universities in infractions cases, said it’s unlikely the committee would accept a summary disposition, given the severity of the case and the widespread public interest in the outcome.
Neither the NCAA nor UNC is talking about the specifics of the case.
Some UNC athletics advocates say women’s basketball faces the biggest hit. Its former longtime academic counselor, Jan Boxill, was directly involved in the long-running academic fraud.
One of the NCAA’s allegations specifically cites her efforts to keep women’s basketball players academically eligible.
Wainstein found that the fraud began in 1993 when Deborah Crowder, then an administrative manager for the African studies department, started creating classes that had no instruction and only required a paper that she would then give a high grade. She was not a faculty member. She launched the fake classes after academic counselors for the athletes complained to her about independent studies that were too rigorous, Wainstein reported.
The counselors were not identified, but Crowder was close friends with Burgess McSwain, the men’s basketball academic counselor. Crowder was also a huge fan of men’s basketball and was sometimes so distraught about a loss that she would miss work the next day. McSwain died in 2004.
Boxill’s involvement in the scandal is deep. Her email correspondence shows she arranged for women’s basketball players to be enrolled in the classes, suggested grades in one instance and in five instances wrote parts of athletes’ papers. She was also a philosophy instructor and provided suspect grades for athletes with some of her classes, the investigation found.
Boxill, former director of the Parr Center for Ethics, was elected faculty leader in 2011, shortly before the fake classes were discovered.
One UNC supporter, Art Chansky, who has written several books about the Tar Heel basketball team’s success on the court, wrote last month that Hatchell should “go gracefully” after the upcoming season, and that her program would take the hardest hit from the NCAA.
That drew criticism from Mary Willingham, the learning specialist for athletes who blew the whistle on the fake classes, and UNC history professor Jay Smith. In their book “Cheated,” they wrote that enrollment records show the cheating began to accommodate men’s basketball, and continued when Williams became coach.
Boxill’s efforts to assist women’s basketball players by writing parts of papers and seeking a grade boost is a specific extra benefits allegation within the NCAA’s report. But more than 20 exhibits cited in another allegation – that athletes in several sports received impermissible benefits in the form of special arrangements to enter the classes – cite Boxill as well.
Three of the exhibits appear to be an email discussion between Boxill, Wayne Walden, the men’s basketball counselor who succeeded McSwain, and Janet Huffstetler, a tutor for the men’s basketball team, over grading in one of Boxill’s philosophy courses.
“I have re-examined the quizzes and have changed the grades – only slightly in two cases,” Boxill wrote in one of the emails, dated July 11, 2005.
That has nothing to do with athletes being given “special arrangements” to Crowder’s fake classes, which is the thrust of that allegation, but it is included there, instead of with the allegation citing Boxill’s misconduct.
All three sports are identified in two major allegations: a lack of institutional control and the acceptance of impermissible benefits.
Football might face a less harsh sanction because the NCAA has already penalized the program in a previous investigation that determined agents and their runners had handed out cash and other perks to players, and that a tutor had provided impermissible help on some athletes’ papers.
The NCAA vacated 16 wins going back to 2008, fined UNC and banned the university from postseason play for the 2012 season. Coach Butch Davis was fired, even though UNC could not pin any impropriety on him, and the athletic director, Dick Baddour, retired early.
Hatchell became the women’s coach in 1986. She told investigators she knew her players were taking a lot of classes within the African studies department, but she thought they were in classes that actually met. She also said she thought Crowder, the administrative manager who offered the fake classes, was a faculty member.
Hatchell said she had great trust in Boxill, a former women’s basketball coach for the University of Tampa who provided color commentary for radio broadcasts of the UNC women’s basketball games.
Williams was an assistant coach at UNC under Dean Smith, then left in 1988 to coach at Kansas. He returned to UNC in 2003 and brought academic counselor Walden with him.
Unlike Hatchell, Williams told Wainstein he saw some things he didn’t like. He noticed that his team had many African studies majors, and they were taking a lot of independent studies. He said he knew one, Rashad McCants, took “three or four” independent studies in the spring 2005 semester, when the team won a national championship.
McCants told ESPN he had failed algebra and psychology courses in the Fall 2004 semester, jeopardizing his eligibility. He took nothing but fake classes the following semester, his transcript showed, and made the dean’s list. Several of his teammates had also enrolled in fake classes that semester, Wainstein reported.
In a recent interview for ESPN and Yahoo Sports, Williams spoke of being credited for moving his players away from the classes. Williams did not bring his concerns to the NCAA, UNC academic officials or the athletic department’s compliance staff.
Williams didn’t speak publicly of his concerns until Wainstein’s report was released in October, three years after the scandal surfaced.
In an interview last month, Austin said she came up with the column earlier this summer while working at Hatchell’s basketball camp. Austin said she and other former players discussed how to show support for Hatchell and her program.
“Some of us former players, we kind of sat down this summer and we were talking about how it didn’t sit right with us that it seems like there’s so many teams that were involved in the (bogus class) situation but women’s basketball was the one that people were pinpointing,” Austin said.
Austin said she hoped that other former players, whom she declined to name, would be willing to speak out and share their frustration – and their support for Hatchell. Austin said she would encourage them to contact The N&O. None have.
Nonetheless, Austin said the most meaningful support for Hatchell would come from the UNC administration.
“There’s no support for Coach Hatchell at all,” Austin said. “And a lot of us have worked in college athletics before, and we know how important it is to have the support of your bosses.” Austin could not be reached Friday for comment after Cunningham’s press conference.
Cunningham said last month he disagreed with the characterization that Hatchell hasn’t received support. He noted that Hatchell is under contract for three more seasons and that “she’s had a great career (and) a lot of success.”
“And I’d expect that success into the future,” he said.
Hatchell declined to comment for this story. She has retained a prominent lawyer, Wade Smith of Raleigh, who also declined comment.