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UNC faces complex football scandal

By Meghan Alessi
Features Editor

It has not been uncommon throughout the history of collegiate athletics for programs to be riddled with violations. The Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs football program received the “death penalty” in 1987 for the rampant practice of paying players as a recruiting incentive. It took them 20 years to begin to pick up the pieces of a shattered program that was once dominant.

Individual players have also been caught violating rules when it comes to money. For example, it was alleged that Johnny Manziel a.k.a “Johnny Football” (quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies and the first freshman to win the Heisman) sold autographs in Jan. of 2013. Although the NCAA never found any hard proof that he did so, they came to an agreement with the Aggies to suspend him for half of the first game of the season.

In 2010 the University of Southern California was forced to vacate all wins from the 2007-2008 men’s basketball season after it was declared that OJ Mayo was ineligible for play that season. The reason he was declared ineligible is because he received monetary benefits.

Money isn’t the only thing that can get a player or program in trouble. It seems that academics are causing some trouble as well. One program that is currently under fire has been in trouble for both money and academics in recent years: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 2010, during their season opener, at least 14 football players were required to watch the game from the bench because of an ongoing investigation. It was alleged that players were receiving money from an agent named Terry Watson in an effort to entice those players to sign with him when they took their football careers to a professional level. During that season, seven of the 14 didn’t play a single game.

Four of those players were eventually declared ineligible to play in the NCAA (three of which entered the NFL draft). The Associate Head Coach, John Blake, resigned. He had received money personally for providing accessibility to players.

In 2011 Head Coach Butch Davis was fired, although he claimed to know nothing about the situation. In 2012 the NCAA put down sanctions on UNC’s football team that included three years of probation, a ban from the 2012 postseason and a reduction in football scholarships.

In the midst of all of this, stories have surfaced about the illegitimacy of several courses offered at UNC. There are reports of up to 200 lecture courses that are not actually being taught (in fact they don’t even meet for class) as well as unauthorized grade changes numbering up to 500 since 1994. One department in particular, African-American Studies, holds the majority of these allegations. The students most affected by this are football and basketball players who are often guided into taking these courses that don’t actually exist so they can focus on athletics.

Mary Willingham, a professor and an advisor at the university, has been called a “whistleblower” since she came out publicly with information on her experience. She attempted to tell university officials about the situation, and they responded by taking away her supervisory role, which she is appealing. They also condemned her for having the nerve to speak out on the matter. Willingham said, “I was part of something that I came to be ashamed of. We weren’t serving the kids. We weren’t educating them properly. We were pushing them toward graduation, and that’s not the same as giving them an education”(businessweek.com).

She reported that several athletes were reading at a grade school level and barely met the minimum for acceptance into the university.

Richard Southall, the director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina was quoted saying, “We pretend that it’s feasible to recruit high school graduates with minimal academic qualifications, give them a full-time job as a football or basketball player at a Division I NCAA school and somehow have them get up to college-level reading and writing skills at the same time that they’re enrolled in college-level classes” (businessweek.com).

UNC is most likely not the only university in the nation experiencing these types of problems. However, it speaks as an example of how athletics and academics do not always go hand-in-hand and begs the question of whether athletes who do not want a college education should be allowed to take scholarships from those who are not just there as a stepping stone to the NFL or NBA, especially when the education being offered is invalid.