NCAA’s North Carolina ruling devalues scholarship, ‘student’-athlete even further

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The uncomfortable truth in Friday’s NCAA ruling, the one where the association let North Carolina walk for a two-decade long academic fraud scandal that helped keep players on two national title-winning teams eligible, is that they probably got this right.

There is no NCAA by-law that would have allowed the Committee on Infractions to bring the hammer down on North Carolina.

In April of 2014, the Division I Legislative Council clarified academic misconduct rules, saying “academic standards and policies governing misconduct are the responsibility of individual schools and their accreditation body,” and that “the membership’s position that it is a school’s responsibility to decide whether or not misconduct involving current or future student-athletes or school staff has occurred.”

The COI could not determine that the “courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” because they weren’t. They were created by a rogue professor. The athletic department found out those classes existed. Student-athletes took advantage of a fake class the way the rest of the student body at-large did. The fake classes were not created specifically for those student-athletes.

That distinction is critical, because it represents the difference between the scandal falling under NCAA jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the agency tasked with accrediting the University of North Carolina as something other than a diploma mill.

That’s why this was tried as an extra benefits case.

That was the only way that the NCAA had a shot of getting North Carolina. That failed, mainly because this effort from doomed from the start.

North Carolina spent $18 million on lawyers and would have spent $18 million more to keep those banners from coming down, and there was nothing that three-and-a-half years of investigation could do to change it.

They were never going to win this fight, and frankly, the NCAA probably should have cut their losses a long time ago.

But arguing about whether or not this ruling was actually fair misses the forest for the trees.

Because the NCAA just admitted that they have no ability to enforce whether or not their member institutions are actually willing or capable of providing their “student”-athletes with the education that is supposed to be their compensation for playing their sport.

That is the fundamental argument for amateurism, correct?

Roy Williams (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

That’s the reason why all the sponsorship money, advertising dollars and TV contract revenue in college athletics goes directly to the schools, the administrators and the coaches, right?

“We don’t have to give them more, we don’t have to allow athletes to be able to profit off of their name or their likeness or their talent because we’re giving them this incredible opportunity to educate themselves for free!”

What good is a $212,000 diploma from the University of North Carolina if you do not get the education that is supposed to come with it?

What this ruling did, for all to see, was cede the NCAA’s control of that over to the schools. They have no power to punish a university that decides they care less about the quality of the education that their student-athletes receive and more about the grades those players get. Keeping them eligible is the priority. Always has been, always will be. Keeping them available for practices and games and midweek trips from Boston to Miami, or LA to Seattle, or Morgantown to Waco takes precedence over a lecture course that happens to be held when conference games are played.

That’s why you see athletes clustered within a major. It’s the easiest one to get good grades in and it makes scheduling practices that everyone can attend that much more manageable, and that’s to say nothing of online classes, where you can never actually be sure who is doing the work.

And frankly, that’s how college works. Everyone with a degree has a story or five about the easy class they took in college, about the way they finagled an ‘A’ out of a bowling class or the way they buoyed their GPA by taking a 100-level class on Coaching Basketball. It’s almost a rite of passage.

This isn’t the place to discuss the preparedness that these student-athletes have for taking college-level courses, either, although it is worth mentioning that part of the reason these athletes get funneled into easy classes in college is because far too many of them were funneled into easy classes at high schools that aren’t exactly known for their academic prowess to make sure they stayed eligible to play, eligible to accept that scholarship when it comes along. Using college courses as compensation, as a salary, creates a situation where players are being paid in a way that they are incapable of extracting value from.

It would be like NBC paying my salary in Raffi cassette tapes. What the hell am I going to do when that direct deposit hits?

But all of that is beside the point.

If possible, the NCAA proved on Friday that it is even more useless than we previously believed.

Amateurism is their rule, and by proxy the rule that these schools want. It exists because an education is supposed to be enough of a salary, but if the association doesn’t actually have any power to determine whether or not the compensation NCAA student-athletes receive from their school actually has any value, what the hell is the point?

We know amateurism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which means that we are going to have to trust that these universities are willing to police themselves, that they are going to prioritize an athlete’s education over their eligibility. North Carolina, which ranks as the 30th best university in America, according to U.S. News and World Report, and the 13th best non-Ivy League school with a Division I sports program, had 18 years of fraudulent classes result in a punishment from an accreditation agency of a one-year probationary period.

One year probation!

What’s more, North Carolina dodged punishment by stating that they were perfectly OK with the fake classes. The NCAA doesn’t have the authority to punish schools for academic impropriety, so while North Carolina admitted what they were doing was the opposite of what a university is supposed to do, all they had to do was say, “But we’re cool with it,” and they were home free.

Seriously.

Just read this.

“With respect to paper courses, there is little dispute,” the NCAA report on the case states. “The classes did not meet. They rarely, if at all, directly involved a faculty member. They required the submission of a paper, occasionally two shorter papers. The papers were often graded by the secretary, who admitted she did not read every word and occasionally did not read every page. The papers consistently received high grades. At the hearing, UNC stood by its paper courses. UNC indicated that the work was assigned, completed, turned in and graded under the professor’s guidelines. UNC also asserted that the grades are recorded on the students’ transcripts and continue to count.”

If that can happen at a school as highly-regarded as North Carolina is, what happens at the 338 Division I programs that are ranked below them?

If the NCAA doesn’t have quality control over the education, and an accrediting agency hands down that meek of a punishment for 18 years worth of fake classes, where is the incentive for a university to give those athletes the education that you all keep telling me is so important and is so valuable?