NCAA lets North Carolina off hook

In what can only be described as a Friday news dump, the National Collegiate Athletic Association released the results of their seven-year-long investigation into the University of North Carolina’s athletic program. This decision they came to was shameful not only because it provides a blueprint for high level athletic departments to commit academic fraud. It further proves the NCAA is inept at fulfilling its actual duties and is nothing more than an organization designed to exploit student athletes for profit.

The NCAA was searching for evidence that UNC knowingly committed academic fraud to benefit their athletic teams. The NCAA concluded that UNC did in fact commit fraud, however, there would be no penalty.

North Carolina’s fraudulent actions took place between 1993 and 2011. Their scheme involved tutors pushing student-athletes toward taking classes in the African and Afro-American Studies department, which were identified as lecture classes. These “lectures,” however, were actually paper classes that only require writing assignments that are guaranteed to receive high marks because the professor disregarded the paper’s content.

These classes were simply created as a way to get student athletes an easy A so they could remain eligible for athletic competition while throwing academic integrity out the window. In the 18 years the fraud took place, it is estimated that a minimum of 3,100 student athletes benefited from these phony classes. Athletes who play for non-revenue sports teams took advantage of these classes as well.

In their report released Friday afternoon, the NCAA acknowledged this practice as textbook academic fraud.

The NCAA claimed they could not punish UNC because these paper classes benefited non-student athletes in addition to the athletes they were designed to help. This is the loophole that can be exploited going forward. Athletic programs can break any rules they want as long as they find a way to assist non-student athletes in the process.

Large and powerful athletic institutions in the NCAA at the University of Alabama, Ohio State, the University of Kentucky and the University of Texas could convince their schools to create these fake classes tomorrow. They all have deep pockets and access to high level attorneys just like the University of North Carolina. Now, because there is a precedent set for this type of situation, this would be an easy defense for any competent lawyer.

Perhaps more importantly, this situation is representative of the ineptitude of the NCAA when it comes to protecting student athletes from exploitation. The reason North Carolina created these classes was not just to benefit the student athletes that enrolled in these classes. UNC wanted to keep talented athletes eligible for competition so they could promote their university, sell tickets and apparel and line their pockets.

These classes might have benefited the student athletes athletically, but they likely harmed their academic experience. For football and basketball players who would eventually go pro, this was likely no big deal. For the rest, it is the university’s responsibility to provide a quality education and prepare them for life after athletics.

Sadly, allowing this level of exploitation has been par for the course in the NCAA.

For years now, the American public has begun to catch on to the corruption and greed that has come to characterize the NCAA. Waves of outcry have been rising against the NCAA since their UNC decision, both for their inconsistencies in governing and exploitation of athletes. It would not be far-fetched to consider the NCAA public enemy number one in American sports. Perhaps, this is the beginning of the end for the mighty NCAA.

Photo: Lisa Herdon via flickr