What an eventful week, folks. There was a little bit of everything going on in the world of sports. OTAs reached full steam in the NFL and Andre Johnson is still a no show for my Texans. The MLB June Amateur Draft’s wonderful 8,642,783 rounds concluded Sunday which was highlighted by the San Diego Padres drafting Johnny Football in the 28th round. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings are in a doozy of a Stanley Cup Finals as the Rangers have let the first two games get away from them in overtime. The Miami Heat ironically couldn’t take the heat in Fan (less) Antonio and the Spurs out sweat them to a Game One victory. And once again, we missed out on a Triple Crown with the ponies.
Then there was Rashad McCants. Yet another athlete from a major collegiate program has come forward and cried foul. McCants was a central figure on the University of North Carolina’s 2005 championship team that defeated Illinois by five points in St. Louis. He appeared on ESPN’s Outside the Lines making a very severe claim against UNC, a school long under suspicion of putting athletics before education, claiming he took “paper classes”. These were classes primarily in the African-American studies program that allowed students to write one term paper a semester and not even show up to any classes in between. McCants accusations claim that tutors even wrote his papers and apparently did such a good job that he made Dean’s List (I have been informed that this is an academic achievement, not an honor by legendary UNC coach Dean Smith for being good at hoops) in that championship season. Further investigation has shown that five players from the championship team, including four anonymous “key players”, were coincidentally enrolled in the same classes.
McCants accused Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams of being fully aware of what was going on with the academics of his student athletes. It is going to be hard to find the truth in that allegation, however, North Carolina’s handling of student athletes has been under fire for roughly the last decade. Most casual college football fans are aware that the football program is still in a mess from past shenanigans. McCants’ recent allegations only confirm what Dan Kane of the Raleigh News and Observer blew open almost three years ago and was ignored by the NCAA. His report exposed the 2005 “paper classes” and showed how a few years after the 2005 season, a new academic advisor was brought on and these classes mysteriously disappeared. Many of the former student athletes coming to Roy Williams’ defense were from the post 2005 era, so they can be trusted in their defense. As far as they know, Williams’ never knew anything about these fake classes, because when they were there, UNC knew that the NCAA was onto them and had the classes removed. Where is Sean May? Where is Raymond Felton? Where is Marvin Williams? While the four key student athletes names have yet to be revealed by UNC snitch Mary Willingham, this was a championship team that saw four Tar Heels go in the first fifteen picks of the first round of the 2005 NBA Draft.
Of course this all comes on the heels of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. This is the lawsuit that is essentially trying to earn former collegiate athletes royalties on their images and likenesses used upon graduation. There are always college programs in both football and basketball under investigation for “paying” players or student athletes collecting money from boosters. Who is at fault? Is the NCAA to blame? Are they a huge board of Bud Seligs who turn a blind eye on obvious violations and don’t react until they are forced to? Or are the boosters to blame with their bottomless pockets and endless demands for championship caliber teams?
There is a simple answer to these questions. Once all of the investigations are done, once the UNC program gets whatever slap on the wrist the NCAA hands down… no one cares. When these investigations hit and when a major college or university is exposed for being “cheaters” whether it be financially or academically, we like to pretend we are holier than thou. We like to believe that we truly feel for these student athletes and that these colleges should be ashamed of themselves for ruining these kids lives. You want the sad truth? At the end of the day, we really want a good game with the best possible product on the court or field. Ask yourself this question: when Shabazz Napier was rising up and slashing through the lane versus Kentucky this past NCAA Championship, were you at all concerned whether or not he had gotten his math homework done before the game?
People are going to cry that the UNC 2005 Championship should be vacated because they committed this academic fraud. If that is the case, how do these same people feel about the “normal”, non-student athletes who took these very same classes? Should their diplomas be revoked? Should they lose their current jobs in the world? Of course not, no one rallies around the status quo and the injustices done to them, nor the businesses that hire them. But when the athletes are involved, let’s all stop what we are doing, point fingers, and call the entire crew of CSI and Law and Order to get to the bottom of it. The university is to blame. Revoking their championships also revokes the championships of student athletes who were simply doing what they thought was the right thing to do. That doesn’t seem as fair now, does it?
We want good sports and in the end that’s all that matters. You want proof? How come none of these investigations or allegations happen when the accused athletes, staff members, or boosters are actually committing the crimes. It always seems to come a few years later. You know why? Because we as a fan base, whether it be for a specific program or simply the sport of college football and basketball, want to see the best teams go at it. Once the game is played, once we have crowned the champion of the season, we can sort out the dirty details later.
Rashad McCants made just about six million dollars over his brief NBA career. He has blown more money in his lifetime than I will most likely ever make. I don’t feel bad for him, nor do I care if he cheated his way to the top. I care that the 2005 NCAA National Championship was an exciting 75-70 victory for UNC over Illinois. He could have spent those millions of dollars and gotten his degree on his own, just like Shaquille O’Neal, Vince Carter, Richard Sherman, and a bevy of others did AFTER they went pro.
The NCAA is a business and a damn good one. Is it dirty? Absolutely, but what successful business isn’t? The University of Alabama athletics department alone brought in 143 million dollars this season and that is more THAN ALL 30 NHL TEAMS BROUGHT IN COMBINED. That is one hell of a business plan they got there in Bama. The NCAA’s real job is to put a quality product out there. They should be concerned about balancing the playing field amongst boosters and keeping kids in college longer to make for good, competitive games. They should care less about cheating, no matter what effect it has on the court. That is the university’s job, and in this case, North Carolina failed.
The real reason we shouldn’t care about athletes and their academics is that no one cares about anyone else’s academic shortcomings or problems. What about the kids I work with in the restaurant industry who have to put off school semester after semester because they can’t afford to go to college? Does anyone worry about the system then? But in collegiate athletics the students’ morality and being able to have a chance is important. We pretend to care about injustices done to them and it is all at the expense of winning. Next time you’re in public, take a look around you. Do you care how those people got to where the did? Of course not. They aren’t athletes, so it doesn’t matter. Well, unless it’s a doctor. If I find out the person that is about to touch certain body parts of mine cheated their way through Med School, then and only then, would I give a damn.
I get it. People feel UNC should be punished because they won a title backed by a program of basketball players that may or may not have been capable of meeting the standards of being a student athlete. That in turn robbed a clean program of the chance of hoisting the national championship trophy themselves. There is a problem with that rationale, however. It is a very bold and brave assumption that any program is clean. It is like steroids in baseball. As soon as someone does well, don’t you automatically believe that they must be juicing? When a program becomes a power house, admit it, you think something dirty is going on. Chances are, you are most likely right in your assumption. But who cares? We all have what we really want. We get the complete awesomeness of March Madness and now we get playoffs in college football. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters. As Wayniac Nation’s ACC insider Mike Dunton said, “It’s like finally learning about Santa. You still want to believe but at the end of the day you get your damn presents anyway.“
There will be pundits who think I’m wrong for not caring, but I’m just numb to it all at this point. This has been going on for decades, so as long as I am entertained, I’m ok with it. Is it wrong? You bet, but it is the system. We can’t reinvent the wheel, so we may as well just get on board and go along for the ride.
I need to cool off, folks. Until next time, let’s hope the Spurs make Allen Fuller and Stephen Worrell’s wallets a little emptier.