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Academic fraud at North Carolina

The debacle in North Carolina poses a real problem for the NCAA. The North Carolina basketball program is one of the premier brands in college basketball, but the NCAA makes billions with the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA slammed Ohio State and USC over tattoos and improper benefits, but here we have a situation where football players, basketball players and other athletes were funneled though “no show” classes that were a complete farce.

The people involved seem to have connections to basketball coach Roy Williams:

Investigators said they talked once to former UNC academic adviser Mary Willingham, who questioned the literacy level of Tar Heels athletes and said UNC had committed academic misconduct before leaving the job in 2010. A report that men’s basketball coach Roy Williams told Willingham her only job was to keep his players eligible was not verified; Williams said he didn’t believe he had met Willingham, and Willingham, who filed a civil suit against the university in June, did not talk to investigators for a second time to answer that question.

The report listed Wayne Walden — the associate director of ASPSA and academic counselor for a number of sports, including men’s basketball from 2003 to 2009, and who has worked closely with Williams at both Kansas and North Carolina — as one of the counselors who “steered players into these paper classes.” It said Walden and his predecessor, Burgess McSwain, “routinely called Crowder to arrange classes for their players.” The report also said Walden later played a role in the basketball players’ move away from the paper-class system.

The report said Walden acknowledged knowing about irregular aspects of the paper classes, including that Crowder was doing at least some of the grading. It added that, when asked whether he shared this information with former UNC assistant and then director of basketball operations Joe Holladay or Williams, Walden could not recall doing so.

Both coaches told investigators that they never learned from Walden or anyone else that there was a question about faculty involvement in the classes or that Crowder was doing the grading.

“You had them [Williams and Holladay] trying to pull back on independent studies, because they wanted lecture classes. You had them pull back on Afam because he [Williams] didn’t like the clustering,” Wainstein said. “Those are actions that are inconsistent with being complicit or really trying to promote that scheme.”

The last paragraph seems ridiculous. So Walden has a close relationship with Williams and he’s steering players into these classes, but Williams is totally in the dark. If we’re to believe that, the whole arrangement seems intentional. The head coach can’t be sucked into the scheme, so you have to have a designated person who can take the fall. Doesn’t that sound more plausible?

Unfortunately things like this happen everywhere given the farce of college athletics, especially in basketball where everyone knows the best players are making a one-year cameo appearance at the school. The classes are just window dressing.

But the level of fraud at North Carolina, the systematic nature of it, and the denial by Williams he knew anything about it all adds up to a mess that seems impossible to explain away.

But the highlights from the report suggest that the investigators were more than willing to accept the “I didn’t know” or “I don’t remember” defenses when it comes to implicating Williams.

How will the incompetent NCAA react? Who knows? They won’t do anything like the death penalty, but let’s see if they’re willing to punish one of the cash cows helping to drive their basketball revenues.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Will the NCAA punish North Carolina basketball?

The NCAA was more than happy to deny USC and Ohio State chances to play in football bowl games, but will they take on North Carolina basketball? Remember that the NCAA has a financial interest in March Madness, but not in the BCS or the bowls.

The academic scandal at North Carolina appears to go back decades, but the latest report doesn’t even go into whether specific athletes at North Carolina were involved. The report looks like a joke for trying to avoid the issue of athletes taking fraudulent classes.

Now, will the NCAA even bother taking a look?

Money talks in college football

With the announcement that Maryland and Rutgers will be joining the Big Ten, we have yet another example of how tradition and the needs of student athletes no longer matter at all in big time college sports. It’s all about money. In this case, it was all about the Big Ten Network and gaining exposure to large TV markets on the East Coast.

On one level the entire situation is pathetic. Does a weakened Big Ten football conference really need to add a weak Maryland program or a Rutgers program that will struggle to stay competitive in the Big Ten? Adding Nebraska made sense from a football standpoint. But this is all about money and markets. I guess once we all acknowledge that it’s a little easier to accept. There’s an arms race going on and the Big Ten sees these dollars as adding to their muscle for the long term.

Meanwhile we have more stories of academic fraud at North Carolina. Read this article and it will make you sick, especially when you consider that UNC hoops is the darling of the NCAA and the national media. Will the NCAA be just as hard on this basketball program? Will it dare vacate a National Championship for the NCAA Tournament that the NCAA controls? How much has money corrupted the holier-than-thou NCAA? With a whistle blower coming forward at North Carolina the NCAA may be forced to address one of its sacred cows.

If Ohio State, Penn State and USC can get crushed by the NCAA for football violations, then North Carolina should get punished for basketball violations and academic fraud.

But frankly the whole system of punishment sucks. Ohio State had a minor scandal over players getting tattoos, and now they might be shut out of a national championship game against Notre Dame. Maybe the NCAA doesn’t care as the BCS controls football championships, but a matchup between Ohio State and Notre Dame in the National Championship could have been the most watched college football game ever give the huge followings from both schools.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is strong-arming former Miami football players in their investigation of a rogue booster there. What’s worse – some Miami kids getting free steaks and yacht trips or “student-athletes” at North Carolina taking no-show classes where a student adviser wrote their papers?

Finally, ESPN has won the rights to televise the new college football playoff for 12 years for a reported fee of $470 million per year. Does anyone expect things to get better? At least the BCS will get better as we can have four teams fighting it out instead of only two. Hopefully it will expand to eight teams at some point. But the dollars keep getting bigger for what’s supposed to be amateur sports.

Les Miles very nearly sealed his own fate and other Saturday thoughts

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Les Miles of the Louisiana State University Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

There have been rumblings in Louisiana that Les Miles has worn out his welcome as coach at LSU. Some have written this off as ridiculous — “He won a national title in 2007!” — but Saturday night was a harsh reminder of why the LSU faithful have lost a lot of, um, faith, in Miles.

The Tigers survived Saturday night in a 30-24 win against half of North Carolina’s team. And it really wasn’t even the good half. Worse still is that LSU very nearly blew a 30-10 lead in the fourth quarter to do it.

Give a lot of credit to the North Carolina players who know the NCAA rules. They played with a lot of heart down the stretch and were two dropped passes and a probably-missed pass interference call away from winning a game nobody gave them a chance in.

But the story here is Miles and the Tigers nearly blowing the game. The Tigers failed to put the game away, and star defensive back Patrick Peterson’s postgame quote said a ton. When asked why he wasn’t on the field for a 97-yard touchdown pass that gave North Carolina life, Peterson responded, “I guess he thought we had a comfortable lead.”

The “he” in that sentence is defensive backs coach Ron Cooper, but how does that decision not go through Miles? If it doesn’t, it should. The head coach doesn’t need to micro-manage his assistants, but he does need to make sure his best players are on the field while the game is still in any kind of doubt. Miles needs to at the very least contend for an SEC title this year, or it could be his last.

Now some other thoughts on the first Saturday of college football. Read the rest of this entry »

Decade Debate: 6 Greatest Sports Rivalries

The word rivalry is defined as “competition for the same objective or superiority in the same field.” Rivalries exist in all facets of life, but they are no more apparent than in the world of sport. With the end of the decade looming, here are the six most intense rivalries of the last ten years.

6. Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson

Competition between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson may not produce the mystique that Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus once did, but their rivalry has been exciting nonetheless. Without Tiger Woods, professional golf’s popularity would be a mere morsel of what it is today. The man has won 14 majors, holds his own tournament (the AT&T National), designed two beautiful courses, is the only golfer with his own video game, and garners public intrigue on the same level as world leaders. Still, his status as figurehead of professional golf wouldn’t have any merit without some stiff competition. Enter Phil Mickelson, Tiger’s only adversary with any staying power. When Mickelson won the 2000 Buick Invitational, he also officially ended Tiger’s streak of consecutive tournament wins at six. Over the years, Mickelson would hire Butch Harmon, Tiger’s former coach, and joke about Tiger’s use of “inferior equipment.” Still, their rivalry always remained amicable, even as Phil won his first major in ’04 (The Masters), the PGA Championship in ’05 another Green Jacket in ’06. During this year’s Masters, Tiger and Mickelson were finally paired together in a major event. Trudging down the final back nine at Augusta, the two golfers put on a show that thankfully lived up to the hype. –- Christopher Glotfelty

Read the rest of this entry »

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