Sham Classes and Crime Coverups Are the NCAA Normal

UNC’s Rashad McCants confessed he took sham courses while playing NCAA basketball. Don’t act surprised—that’s business as usual for our corrupt college sports system.

Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters

This is a story about a former University of North Carolina and NBA basketball player named Rashad McCants.

McCants had a fairly successful stint on the hardwood, averaging 16 points per game for the 2004-05 NCAA title-winning University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

The thing is, McCants really wasn’t a student for large portions of his time in Chapel Hill. On Friday, McCants revealed that he received straight A’s and made the Dean's List during his final year, even though team-assigned tutors wrote his papers for him and he rarely if ever attended his classes.

But for anyone that might be prompted to rail against this mockery of higher education and student-athletes, this isn’t really a story about Rashad McCants at all. This is a story about the avaricious, corrupt machine that is the NCCA; a system that has produced—and will continue to produce—atrocities that make McCants’ joke of a scholarly career look like unpolished brass on the Titanic.

In an interview on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, McCants explained, “I thought it was a part of the college experience, just like watching it on a movie from He Got Game or Blue Chips ... When you get to college, you don’t go to class, you don't do nothing, you just show up and play. That’s exactly how it was, you know, and I think that was the tradition of college basketball, or college, period, any sport. You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that.

“You're there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”

How ridiculous were these so-called classes? Well, here’s a look at one example of a paper written for said class. It received an A-minus.

The individual that’s ostensibly running the basketball program, UNC head coach Roy Williams, categorically denied any knowledge of misdoings with regards to McCants and claimed that this never, ever happened with any of his other players, because of course he did.

McCants responded to Williams, stating that, “You have to know about the education of your players and ... who’s eligible, who's not and ... who goes to this class and missing that class. We had to run sprints for missing classes if we got caught, so you know, they were very aware of what was going on."

If you’re unsure whom to believe here, it’s worth considering that this isn’t exactly news. In 2010, it was revealed that the professor from the selfsame African Studies department that had padded McCants’ GPA, allowing him to remain academically eligible, had received football tickets, VIP passes and other goodies, the university (investigating itself) decided that no fraud had been committed.

The NCAA even got in on the act, and—quelle surprise—also determined that everything was hunky-dory. Per their official statement:

Based on the joint review, UNC and the NCAA staff concluded there were no violations of current NCAA rules or student-athlete eligibility issues related to courses in African and Afro-American Studies.

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Yes, if true, this paints a pretty bad picture of UNC with regards to its standing as an institution of learning. Of course, it pales in comparison to the high crimes and ensuing cover-ups by other schools that have occurred in the past 10 years alone. See if you can detect a pattern here.

—Brittney Griner, possibly the finest women’s college basketball player in the world and one of the few female athletes that was a revenue-generating performer on par with her male counterparts, was told by her coach to keep her homosexuality in the closet, suggesting that it would be a detriment to the program. “It was a recruiting thing,” Griner said. “The coaches thought that if it seemed like they condoned it, people wouldn't let their kids come play for Baylor.”

—As described in this extensive investigative report by The New York Times, Jameis Winston, the star quarterback at Florida State University, was accused of—but never charged with—having non-consensual sex with a female student in December 2012; a case in which: “The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.”

—Speaking of rape, at Notre Dame, 10 days after an alleged sexual assault by a football player, a 19-year old named Lizzy Seeberg committed suicide. Once again, both the university and the police department seemed far more concerned with protecting the accused and a storied football program than actually conducting a thorough investigation. Until she took her own life and the story began to gain prominence, no charges were filed, and the player in question was cleared. But given the failure by the authorities to act in a timely matter, it’s hard to say with a straight face that he was innocent.

—Aaron Hernandez’s crime spree didn’t start when he reached the NFL. As early as 2007, he got into a fight at a club with two men that were later shot a few blocks away. He also failed a drug test and allegedly hit a bouncer so hard he punctured his eardrum. His then-coach, Urban Meyer not only failed to discipline Hernandez, he helped to cover up the drug violation.

—And then there’s the repugnant child molester Jerry Sandusky, whose barbaric crimes were enabled by Penn State University for years.

Are you horrified? Are you disgusted? Good. That’s just the tip of this hateful iceberg, but if you’re already recoiling in horror and disgust, take it as evidence that you currently possess an operant limbic system.

It’d be convenient to see these as a series of isolated incidents, but the unifying factor in this fetid swamp is that in each and every instance, from McCants to Winston, the individual in question is/was a serious source of profit, and he schools felt that defending their cash cow was worth violating every known social contract since the Magna Carta.

Why did they side with their wallets as opposed to say, basic human decency? Well, as I’ve written before, college sports is a multibillion-dollar industry that brazenly rakes in cash while fondling the word “amateurism” until it has lost all meaning. And when challenged, they’ll obfuscate, outright lie, or haughtily appeal to willfully ignorant sentimentality in order to justify what is, for all intents and purposes, a profit margin that is derived from legalized indentured servitude.

On the other hand, if the big college sports were treated like a job, as it should be, there’d be no need to shoehorn McCants into gut classes. As a paid employee, he’d have the choice to take on an actual, rigorous academic study, instead of being placed in a situation where seeking an education endangered his actual purpose at UNC, which was—as he said himself—to win basketball games

But none of this would be possible without the protective cover that is provided by the NCAA. Amazingly, save for Penn State, they didn’t mete out punishment for any of these universities for their actions or inaction (and Penn State’s sanctions were reduced mere months later, after the media firestorm began to die down). Really.

What is worthy of punishment? Excessive pasta, circumventing the hypocrisy of amateurism by paying players and failing to meet academic standards (a problem that can ironically be rectified by exactly the kind of illicit behavior that McCants detailed.)

Regardless of the severity crime, as long as a school is defending its free labor, the NCAA will twist itself into a Gordian knot of rationalizations and ham-fisted logic to defend their member schools, let alone actually take them to task. That’s sadly to be expected from an organization that isn’t an actual governing body with a sense of morality based on coherent rules, but a cartel that exists solely to maximize the bottom line.

It means that all of this, though, is as inevitable as bad weather. Unless amateurism is cast into the dustbin of history, scenes like these will continue to play out in more or less the same way, over and over again, like a tired, hackneyed morality (-free) play in which the heads of this particular mob walk away scot-free, and the low-level operatives suffer the relatively minor consequences.

There will be turgid protestations of innocence, attacks on whistleblowers like McCants, and shamelessly implausible, see-no-evil, hear-no-evil denials, but the entire corrupt game will roll merrily along.