In an interview with ESPN’s news magazine show Outside The Lines, former University of North Carolina basketball star Rashad McCants detailed the program’s don’t ask, don’t tell attitude towards academics, saying that he could have been ineligible for the team’s 2005 national championship run had he not taken “bogus classes” and had improper assistance from tutors, and that he made perfect grades one semester despite not attending classes.
McCants’ allegations are rooted in the same so-called “paper classes” that have been the focus of ongoing investigations at UNC by news organizations and NCAA officials. Students enrolled in these courses, many of them athletes in the football and men’s basketball programs, were not required to actually attend any classes and graded solely on one term paper turned in each semester. Those papers, McCants said, were rarely written by the students themselves.
“For some of the premiere players, we didn’t write papers,” McCants told ESPN. “When it was time to turn in our papers for our paper classes, we would get a call from our tutors, we would all pack up in one big car or two or three cars, carpool over to the tutor’s house, and basically get our papers and go about our business.”
School and athletics administrators at the Chapel Hill campus have been on the defensive ever since details began leaking about fake classes that required little or no attendance and yet handed down passing grades — often times A or B grades — to their athlete enrollees. Investigations into dozens of suspect courses have found that athletes were being placed in classes that were created solely for the benefit of those in jeopardy of losing their academic eligibility; that professors were being listed as the instructors on certain classes without their knowledge; and that course paperwork was being forged.
McCants also told ESPN that while coaches in the program may not have been involved in the academic scandals, they were certainly aware of it and did nothing to correct the problem.
“I think [Head Coach Roy Williams] knew, 100 percent,” said McCants. “Because it’s hard for anybody not to know, about the fact that we’re taking African American studies courses and we dont have to go to class. I think that’s very obvious.”
UNC officials told ESPN that the school is continuing its investigation into widespread allegations of academic fraud, and in many ways the NCAA’s hands are tied in this case until UNC acts first. But McCants’ revelations will again reignite the debate over the concept of “student athletes,” a term favored by the NCAA to argue against the idea of paying top-tier college athletes — and it comes at a bad time for the NCAA, just days before the organization will head to trial in a lawsuit from former athletes alleging federal antitrust violations over compensation tied to broadcast revenues. In a brief filed in court Thursday, USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz reported, the NCAA indicated that it plans to demonstrate “hard evidence — data — that football and men’s basketball (student-athletes), do, in fact get an education, including statistical analyses showing that these (student-athletes) graduate and achieve success at equal or higher rates than other young people with similar backgrounds.”
The NCAA has stressed the point that college players are students first and receive a proper education, pointing to the organization’s success at raising the graduation rate for athletes. But athletes, their advocates, and other organizations have raised questions about those measures and whether graduation rates are fairly reflective of the education athletes receive, and McCants’ revelations could only bolster those arguments as more details in the UNC academic scandal continue to emerge.