UNC-Chapel Hill’s Remaining Football Problems Are Academic and Should Be Left as Such by the NCAA


Editors Note: With great pleasure I introduce you to Keeping It Heels newest staff writer Cliff Potter

Dec 4, 2010; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels chancellor Holden Thorp cheers at the Dean E. Smith Center. The Tar Heels defeated Kentucky 75-73. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

The NCAA is still investigating problems at UNC, focusing on academic problems. These problems are largely concentrated in the Department of African Studies, whose former department chair resigned in April and retired this summer. The report said:

"“While presenting this report in as careful and impartial a manner as possible, we cannot conclude without emphasizing the acute dismay that we, as UNC-Chapel Hill faculty felt as we uncovered the practices summarized here,” reads the report compiled by Jonathan Hartlyn, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs, and William Andrews, senior associate dean for fine arts and humanities. “… the unprofessional or unethical actions noted in this report risk damaging the professional reputations of the faculty in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies as a whole.”"

Enough is enough.

Enough about the issues that plague academic departments.

Enough about tutors who have run astray.

Enough about plagiarized papers, classes that do not meet, and free rides in an academic system that has boasted for generations to be the oldest state university and one of the finest universities in the South.

We have proof that the university has not done well in academics because of our football team. After all, they are the students involved, although perhaps others were also involved. And they have tarnished by one or more departments whose purpose included giving an easy grade.

We have evidence that UNC’s football team did well under this system.

But we have no evidence that these actions were because of anything done by the people who ran the football program. Only that the academic side was plagued with “unprofessional or unethical” conduct. These acts did not simply “risk” the reputation of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. They were at the center of this Department and its department head.

UNC fired Butch Davis. However, he remains unconnected to this scandal. And he was let go with full pay, and who has been cited only for a failure to keep his program running right.
After a complete review of his text messages, not one problem emerged. Other coaches in the country have not been able to withstand such scrutiny.

And we have a chancellor who continues to work in the university system after firing Butch Davis and having treated football as the culprit. Maybe it was.
But the evidence points elsewhere.

And in this, we can see a ray of light that may save the university and create a more meaningful system that deals with stray academics rather than regularly blaming athletics for the direction academics takes. If this was an academic problem, the problem does not deal with sports, nor does the NCAA have athletic jurisdiction over the problem. And if this is so, then a viable argument can be made that no sporting team can be charged with any violation at all.

In any institution, the buck stops at the top. And within the academics involved. And, if the athletics department did not realize that appropriate standards were not being met, the academics side is to blame, not the athletics side.
In fact, blaming Butch Davis for lack of institutional control may be within the rules of the NCAA. But the real blame falls on Chancellor Holden Thorp and those responsible for the academic side of UNC.

From the very start, the top has been dirty with academic problems that should have been solved through proper audits and controls.

Instead of ensuring that academic fraud did not exist, an entire department seemed to be seeped in it. There was evidence of regular problems in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. And problems like this is an academic problem.

This is Butch Davis’ fault?

No. It was not. It was Holden Thorp’s problem.

Finally, Thorp has resigned, long after any board would have fired him had the scandal involved more than “simple” cheating by an academic department. Yet, Thorp is still very well liked.

Thorp is resigning in June after dealing with a series of athletic, academic and financial scandals for the past two years. Faculty, employees, students and the campus trustee board asked Thorp to change his mind, but he said his decision was final.

Why do the faculty, employees and students want Thorp to stay?

I have nothing against Thorp. However, I was and still am a very strong Butch Davis advocate who felt that more could have been done to save his job. I may still see evidence of real wrongdoing by Davis. If so, I stand corrected.

But there is no evidence whatsoever that Davis participated in the academic problems that surrounded UNC.

The reality of the situation is that the academic side had multiple failures far worse than a bauble or two gained by great football players who went astray, or the free parking tickets (which may be the Chancellor’s responsibility), or any other fault that should be laid at the feet of someone other than those in charge of academics.

This is now an institutional problem in academics.

How has Holden Thorp managed to avoid the blame?

The first way is that this was dealt with as if it were a football problem. There were ingredients for this to be seen this way. After all, with gold chains and other trinkets, and airfare to some players, these players were breaking the rules.

Since then, UNC has discovered evidence of regular academic problems.

Whatever is done with these revelations, the perspective has to change from the football side to the academic side. And the first set of questions we have to ask is just how bad this problem could be, and what more is to be done about it.

There is no way for UNC to escape greater penalties for their football transgressions, if they are determined to be athletic rather than academic.

One has to assume that they are on their way. And this will hurt recruiting until they come out.

But what we also have to ask ourselves is when, if ever, is football not involved? Can football be treated as the scapegoat when the real culprit is a lack of academic oversight?

In fact, one could argue in a more complete world, full of a far better understanding that the academic side has responsibilities that are wholly unrelated to football, might actually result in putting the blame where the blame is deserved. After all, did the players create the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, or sanction its courses, or choose its department head?

We can only hope that the NCAA will see things this same way.