The NCAA just admitted they don’t care about students’ education after all

For years, they insisted athletes shouldn't get paid because they get a good education instead.

(Credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
(Credit: AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

For decades, the NCAA insisted that athletes who generate millions in revenue for their schools don’t deserve to be paid. Now, it turns out, they don’t deserve an actual education either.

On Friday morning, the NCAA delivered the long awaited findings of a years-long investigation into allegations that the University of North Carolina engaged in academic fraud by offering student-athletes bogus classes designed to keep players academically eligible to compete. Despite mountains of evidence that UNC’s so-called “paper courses” had little to no educational value, the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions determined there were no violations of academic rules.

Their conclusion mostly hinges on a technicality. UNC defended their use of “paper courses” by arguing that they were made available to any enrolled student at UNC, not just student-athletes. Had the school closed off these courses to the general student population, it would have constituted a clear violation of academic rules.

“While student-athletes likely benefited from the so-called ‘paper courses’ offered by North Carolina, the information available in the record did not establish that the courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” said NCAA COI Chief Hearing Officer Greg Sankey in a statement.

More than 3,100 students enrolled in these courses offered within the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies between 1993 and 2011. Half of those students were athletes for the Tar Heels. Unlike most college courses, many of the “paper courses” did not require attendance, and were graded solely based on a final term paper at the end of the semester. If you’re picturing a well-researched, carefully footnoted 20-page thesis, well, think again.

Seldom has there been an NCAA scandal as egregious and thoroughly reported as UNC’s academic fraud case. And yet the conclusions by the front office—UNC will receive no punishment—are hardly surprising.

The Tar Heels are one of the biggest draws in Division I men’s college basketball. They are the reigning national champions after plowing through the NCAA’s month-long championship tournament, which alone accounts for more than $1 billion in revenue. To impose harsh sanctions would be to inflict financial harm upon itself.

But by not moving to punish UNC for its gross academic misconduct, the NCAA is finally admitting that their entire business model—leaning on the unpaid labor of college students to produce, package, and sell a multi-billion dollar product in exchange for an “education”—is nothing more than an elaborate sham.

For years, the NCAA has ruthlessly defended their position that college athletes should not be paid, or even allowed to benefit financially off of their own likenesses, because they are students first and athletes second. Their argument remains that the full scholarships offered by their universities are adequate compensation for their services on the court.

With the unmasking of UNC’s academic racket, it’s clear that the “education” from a top-tier research university these students were promised is about as useful as a bachelor’s degree from Trump University.

The NCAA’s report does not dispute the troubling details of these “paper courses.” Their own investigation found explicit cases of forged signatures, unexplained grade changes, and wanton disregard for academic integrity. Instead, they offer what amounts to a shrug and a stern warning. The NCAA levied no punishment whatsoever, save for a minor disciplinary action against Julius Nyang’oro, the former Chairman of UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies.