The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is the oldest state university in the land. It remains in the top tier of public colleges in American academics.
Its athletics aren’t bad either.
Tar Heel basketball is legendary, thanks to Hall of Fame coaches Dean Smith and Roy Williams, who have consistently recruited talented athletes with excellent work ethics, on-the-court brilliance and off-the-court amicability.
Many have become leaders in their own right, long after their playing days have ended. Michael Jordan. Larry Brown. Brad Daugherty. Jeff Lebo. Kenny Smith. Buzz Peterson. Joe Wolf. And that’s just the start of a great list of names, many of whom credit their UNC coaches for preparing them to be successful.
Tar Heel football hasn’t piled up championships, but it’s a competitive program that consistently produces excellence — as seen in the careers of NFL players such as Kelvin Bryant, Lawrence Taylor and Julius Peppers.
While less well-marketed, fans know that other Tar Heel sports, especially women’s soccer and baseball, are among the nation’s strongest programs.
As has happened with many schools boasting high-profile sports teams, UNC has landed under the spotlight for misconduct. Some faculty were offering dubious classes and some athletes — along with a lot of other students — were taking advantage.
Despite some outrageous claims from disgruntled former basketball player Rashad McCants, the evidence has generally cleared the marqee sports programs and pointed to issues elsewhere.
The most recent update last week was more of the same, with former members the women’s basketball and men’s soccer teams possibly involved in additional incidents of academic misconduct.
Because of these problems, the NCAA may impose penalties.
Those who dislike UNC because of rivalries or think its legacy has led to arrogance have been eager to laugh at UNC’s woes.
Certainly Carolina must answer for mistakes that have been made. But let’s put the brakes on for a minute and zoom the lens back a bit to look at the big picture.
Once the first whiff of scandal surfaced several years ago, the university has been diligent in policing itself. Other shoes keep dropping, but the independent investigator UNC commissioned to probe its own programs is the one who keeps dropping them.
And this is an academics scandal that has tainted athletics. The questionable classes were created by faculty working outside of the athletics programs and without knowledge of sports staff, even if these faculty members’ intent was partially to help athletes who might be struggling with grades.
Pull the lens further back to take in, not just Chapel Hill, but the entire American university system, as well as the full range of collegiate athletics. Certainly there have been many other athletics scandals, some involving academics. But what other school ever engaged in this degree of self-policing?
Let’s word that question differently: What other major college athletics program in America could survive this level of scrutiny?
Here’s what UNC could do for American collegiate athletics. Offer the know-how and experience of the team that’s investigating in Chapel Hill to every other major sports school, from Durham to Raleigh to Atlanta to Tallahassee to Miami. But don’t stop with fellow ACC schools.
Offer those services where they are most desparately needed: To every school in the Southeastern Conference. Conduct an independent investigation and see what turns up.
Now, maybe I’m wrong in my perception of the SEC. Maybe some or even most of those schools would come out clean. But we won’t know without looking.
The supporters of any school that’s not willing to pick up this challenge don’t have room to be critical of UNC.
Now let’s turn the spotlight elsewhere entirely. Because this problem in academics and athletics doesn’t begin in college.
When are we going to hold elementary, middle and high school educators and idiot-infested school boards accountable for routinely passing along and graduating kids who have never learned the basics they will need to succeed in life, whether they are star athletics or not?
Every child should be able to read and do basic math before leaving first grade. If we have athletes or anyone else graduating from high school or college without those abilities, the system failed them a long time ago.
UNC has embraced accountability for its own mistakes. How about everyone else?