North Carolina’s “paper classes”

The North Carolina academic scandal that’s unfolding makes what the Harricks did look like small potatoes.

The academic fraud in the university’s African-American studies department was first revealed three years ago. But a new investigation shows that the fake classes were even more common than previously thought, and that athletes in particular benefited from the classes, in some cases at the behest of their academic counselors. Previous investigations had found no ties to campus athletics.

On campus, the fake classes, which at least 3,100 students took, were hardly a secret. They were particularly popular with athletes, who made up about half of enrollments. Nearly a quarter of students who took the classes were football and basketball players. And the classes made a difference: good grades that students didn’t have to work for made more than 80 eligible to graduate who otherwise would have flunked out.

The big question, of course, is what the NCAA intends to do about it.  This situation cuts at the core of what the NCAA likes to proclaim is what collegiate athletics is supposed to be about.  In that sense, it’s a far more troubling problem than what Mark Emmert rushed to deal with at Penn State.

The early indication appears to be that there won’t be a rush to judgment.

There is a lot of gray area for the NCAA to work through.  The parties directly responsible for managing the fake classes aren’t facing criminal charges and cooperated with the investigation.  But the report clearly points fingers at the two.  The trickier part the NCAA will have to navigate is that while there was widespread knowledge throughout the campus of what was going on with these classes, the report does not directly implicate higher-ups.  As the New York Times puts it,

Although the report found no evidence that high-level university officials knew about the fake classes, it faulted the university for missing numerous warning signs over many years.

Deciding who gets to skate and how much institutional blame is merited is where the NCAA is going to spend most of its time in review of the situation.



Filed under Academics? Academics., The NCAA

30 responses to “North Carolina’s “paper classes”

  1. Tronan

    This lays bare the illusion that student-athletes are the rule instead of the exception. Let’s face it, most of the guys playing for major football and basketball programs aren’t at a university because of their facility with John Donne’s sonnets.

    I think that Division I football and basketball programs (maybe baseball programs, too) should be affiliated with universities rather than be parts of them. A school could offer scholarships as an incentive, but there should be no academic requirements. If a kid just wants to play ball to prep for the pros, then fine. If someone else really does want to get a degree, too, then even better.

    I realize most universities don’t want to lose direct control of any program. I also realize that most sports programs actually don’t make money and won’t want to lose direct access to the university funding teat. But, I think what I propose – essentially, treating these programs as the pro feeders that they are – would make for a more honest arrangement than now.


  2. Macallanlover

    Agree Senator, there is no way to be kind about this behavior at UNC, primarily because it was institutionally “condoned” at many levels as officials looked the other way. But it is difficult to throw too many rocks at UNC when “academic cheating” for special need athletes is embraced at the majority of D1 schools to some degree. So many programs are a little pregnant on this issue. It begins with the admission compromises made and continues through the curriculum manipulation with specialty classes.

    Seeing many of the athletes interviewed throughout their collegiate careers, and afterwards in the pros, is proof enough that the education system failed them in many ways, but the term “student athletes” often draws snickers. This didn’t drive the “semi-pro” leagues I thought would be the outcome, but when combined with the pay for play issues, we may see that yet.


  3. HondaDawg

    Senator – I rarely disagree with your comments but how exactly is this more troubling than concealing child rape for football ? I’m still shocked that PSU is getting off early, let alone at all. While at UNC, the Chancellor and the BB Coach are pointing fingers at others? C’mon man! Who approved the budgets for the classes? Who recruited illiterates to play for them? I say, 5 year tounament ban for the BB team and 5 year bowl ban for the football team. Chancellor and BB coach step down immediately. Meanwhile, normal kids with high GPA, but an imperfect SAT can’t get into Chapel Thrill, I laugh at the hypocrisy.


    • I’m not saying that academic fraud is more troubling than underage rape in the vast scheme of things. It’s certainly not. But in the context of the NCAA’s self-proclaimed mission, this is going to be a much harder matter for the institution to deal with than Sandusky’s was.


      • Mayor

        The Sandusky situation, as horrible as it was, was one man doing awful things and a few other men higher up helping to cover it up. This UNC revelation goes to the very heart of the NCAA’s idea of intercollegiate athletics–organized academic cheating. If the higher ups at UNC say they had no knowledge, that is the very definition of lack of institutional control. I say give ’em the death penalty.


    • ASEF

      The Chancellor during this mess resigned in disgrace two years ago. The new Chancellor asked for this new report when it became clear that the two principles would cooperate courtesy of leverage from a prosecutor.

      I think the two relevant questions are these:

      1. As the Senator asked in the wake of PSU, why would any university ever investigate itself? Where’s the incentive?
      2. How long will it take national media to flip from demanding UNCs head on a platter to hammering the NCAA for punishing innocent victims for the crimes of departed individuals?

      I read the report. A lot of people collecting large retirement checks are trying to figure out how to explain themselves to their golfing buddies. Kessler is high-fiving everyone he sees, I bet.


    • Silver Creek Dawg

      As someone who went to UNC for 2 years before coming home to Athens, this is very frustrating and saddening to me.

      But I must point out that getting in to UNCCH is near impossible for out of state students unless you are a legacy; state law mandates that between 82 and 85% of each class must be classified as in state.


  4. DC Weez

    This is so disappointing that this could happen at a university like UNC. I just wonder how many other universities are doing likewise. It is also disappointing that Roy Williams claims he didn’t know anything about this. That is just total BS. Big time coaches know everything about theoir players’ courses, schedules, grades, etc. They are CONTROL FREAKS! No one believes you Roy.


    • ASEF

      Roy clearly knew, because he quickly phased his players out of those courses after he arrived. The report discusses the disappearance of basketball players from those enrollments


      • Macallanlover

        All coaches know the games that are played, it just varies by degrees (no pun intended) among schools. From the time I have spent with Roy Williams I don’t have any doubt about him being a stand up guy. I am sure he saw similar things like that under Dean Smith in the 70s, and inherited something like that at Kansas. I wouldn’t throw Williams under the bus on this.

        Academic fudging has been a part of the game for NCAA athletes for decades, it is just worst at some places and usually varies by the sport’s importance to that particular university. All major schools are hypocritical in regards to this, look at the great ND and GT schools of higher learning. Academic scandals are not hard to find if you look closely enough, even TN had one in the Foolmer years, and it isn’t close to being a highly regarded university.


  5. Russ

    How are the people directly involved NOT facing criminal charges? Isn’t this fraud?


  6. Just Chuck (The Other One)

    What baffles me about this is the logic that takes you from concern about students to giving them free grades. Wouldn’t real concern focus on helping them develop some intellectual skills and the ability to make good decisions? How does keeping them around a little longer without doing anything to prepare them for life after college qualify as helping?


  7. H. Boots

    Need to contact my old friend who adamantly insisted to me on numerous occasions that UNC was an Ivy League caliber school.


    • Just Chuck (The Other One)

      I think that means ivy grows just as well on their campus as it does at Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.


    • ncdawg50

      Fraud classes in one department that were only taken by 3% of students do not ruin the entire university. UNC is a great school because of its science departments, business school, law school. Those had nothing to do with this.


  8. James

    “The trickier part the NCAA will have to navigate is that while there was widespread knowledge throughout the campus of what was going on with these classes, the report does not directly implicate higher-ups. ”

    Here’s where I get confused: Penn State fired all their higher ups, and were punished severely anyway. No punishment here means it’s much better to create intentional institutional failings that keep you blind to these things. That way you get to not only keep your job, but stake NCAA punishment for (as you said) a direct violation of the entire thesis of the NCAA.


  9. uglydawg

    Does the NcAA use an electric chair, lethal injection or hanging when it administers the death penalty?


  10. DawgPhan

    hasnt the NCAA’s position always been that as long as work was turned in, how easy a class was isn’t their business?

    If the class says you have to turn in 5 papers to get a grade and you turn in 5 papers, the NCAA doesnt care what grade you get. To me this is more of a UNC issue than an NCAA issue if the work was done, however poorly it might have been done.


    • H. Boots

      Tell that to Jim Harrick.


      • Mayor

        Exactly. It killed Georgia’s basketball program. Of course the real culprit was Mike Adams over-reacting in order to save his own skin.


      • DawgPhan

        I believe the difference is that in the Harrick case, players were given grades and no work was done. Also the University punished itself(sound familiar).

        Reminds be of the Sociology degree from Auburn from a few years ago. NCAA.

        If you turn in a paper and get a grade for that paper then the NCAA should be fine with it.

        You dont turn in a paper and get a grade for it, then the NCAA gets involved.


  11. Bulldog Joe

    If UNC followed The Georgia Way, they would have terminated a basketball season over each one-hour non-GPA PE class and suspended a head coach for one year over each non-GPA class drop-add administrative error.

    However, the North Carolina Way is to layoff some low-level employees, challenge the NCAA to an expensive legal battle, give an honorary graduate degree to the ACC Commissioner, and keep winning doing what they are doing.


  12. Dog in Fla

    As usual, “the report does not directly implicate higher-ups.”


  13. 69Dawg

    This is my take on it. 1. The NCAA is looking for a way out of this, especially for the basketball side. They make their money from March Madness and they don’t want to kick UNC out of it. 2. The NCAA has ruled that as long as the student body has classes available to it and the classes are also taken by athletes then it’s a school call and not the NCAA. IF the reports were truly the work of the athletes then the grades given are ok even if they are inflated. 3. This is the same rule that allowed 9 or 10 UT players to drop courses during the year at UT and yet remain eligible to play in the MNC game. All students at UT were able to drop a class and show it as incomplete up until the final exam. Guess UGA had them on that one since if you drop after the drop/add date you get a withdrew passing of you got a withdrew failing and your GPA was hit.

    In short this will be a non-NCAA event.