UNC’s Athletic Scandal Is Far From Over

Posted by Chris Johnson on June 10th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Job resignations don’t get more prescient than former UNC chancellor Holden Thorp’s decision last week to leave the school for the smaller and less hectic D-III pastures of Washington University in Saint Louis. Thorp’s stated reason for leaving – that the burden of making crucial decisions about a major college athletics program, lopped on top of his educational and administrative responsibilities, had worn Thorp thin over the past three years – is the perfect precursor for the recent news surrounding the Tar Heels’ athletic program. The academic scandal that surfaced last year to widespread dismay and doomsday-forecasting, then faded from the national spotlight, appears to have turned a resentfully bleak corner. A public records request from the Raleigh News & Observer issued last year, around the time of the initial reports of academic malfeasance within UNC’s athletic department, was granted just this month, and the findings only further validate Thorp’s clairvoyant departure. Emails between Tar Heels’ athletic-academic officials and Julius Nyang’oro – the former head of the former, erm, extinct African-American Studies department that allegedly greased the rails for scores of athletes (including football, and possibly men’s basketball, players) to stay eligible through fraudulent, or even non-existent, classes – turned up evidence of even greater systemic failures than we might have initially thought. The details aren’t pretty. This exchange between former football academic coordinator Cynthia Reynolds and Nyang’oro offers a window into the sort of deep institutional collusion UNC potentially left unmonitored within its athletic department.

What once looked like a swath of empty academic allegations could lead to heavy punishment (Getty).

What once looked like a swath of compelling but forgotten circumstantial evidence could lead to heavy punishment (Getty).

In one email from September 2009, Cynthia Reynolds, a former associate director who oversaw academic support for football players, told Nyang’oro in an email that “I hear you are doing me a big favor this semester and that I should be bringing you lots of gifts and cash???????”

When allegations of academic propriety were first brought to the fore, reaction was critical and uncompromising. All the signs of a collectively coordinated academic fraud were plain: shoddy transcripts, rinky-dink classes, a rogue department head with a dubious academic track record. Slowly but surely, the whole thing poofed into a cloud of oblivion. Nothing to see here, folks. We’ve got this under control. The media heat may have cooled, and powerful interweb columnists may have loosened their clench on UNC’s academic reputation, but the actual evidence never disappeared. Julius Peppers’ specious and internet-leaked transcript was still lying around on some investigator’s desk. The African-American Studies department’s comically easy jock classes did take place. Holden Thorp bolted the premises for a reason. The condemning evidence never went away, and now, after a year’s delay, when the dust had cleared and UNC athletics had emerged from the foreboding smog of NCAA sanctions and leaky academic oversight, the forgotten demons are reappearing.

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Morning Five: 09.18.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 18th, 2012

  1. The NCAA eligibility train rolls on, and NC State’s Mark Gottfried was Monday’s recipient of the excellent news that superstar freshman Rodney Purvis is eligible to suit up in a Wolfpack uniform next season. The issue in Purvis’ case revolved around the legitimacy of his high school — Upper Room Christian Academy, in Raleigh, whose first-ever class to graduate included Purvis — but during an 80-minute deliberation on Monday, an NCAA core course subcommittee saw enough evidence that the big guard is adequately prepared for the rigors of a college education and made the right decision to let him play. We’ll have more on this later today, but the early buzz is that this makes NC State the favorite to win the ACC for the first time in… how long?
  2. Speaking of getting a college education, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp announced on Monday that this academic year would be his last at the university in that position. Even though the academic scandal that has rocked the university in recent months most likely started prior to his tenure as chancellor of the school in 2008, the most recent black eye involving fundraising director Matt Kupec and Tyler Hansbrough’s mother, Tami, taking personal trips on the university dime, happened on his watch. One member of the Board of Governors said that Thorp, as “captain of the ship” at UNC, had become “the face of damage control” and lauded him for sacrificing himself for the good of the school. It doesn’t take an insider to see the writing on the wall that more changes are likely to come in Chapel Hill as additional details about the academic scandal are revealed by the upcoming Martin Report, due to release next month.
  3. Everybody is well aware of the near-mutiny that occurred in Lubbock earlier this month at Texas Tech (side note: Billy Gillispie has been ordered by his doctors to avoid stress for the next 30 days), but what is going on on the other side of the state at Rice? Ben Braun’s team lost four transfers over the summer and followed that up by losing two more players in just the past week — notably, Omar Oraby (USC), and most importantly, Owls star Arsalan Kazemi. The 6’7″ senior who averaged 12/10 last season en route to all-CUSA honors, was roommates with Oraby and no doubt must have missed their nightly games on the PlayStation. Jeff Goodman reported Monday that Kazemi is looking at six schools including Texas, Oregon, Cincinnati, Florida, Ohio State and Kentucky. He will have to sit out the mandated transfer year per NCAA rules, but the talented Iranian would provide a very nice one-year punch to any of those schools in 2013-14.
  4. Louisville may have found its replacement for preseason All-American Peyton Siva in 2013-14 and perhaps beyond, as 5’11” waterbug Chris Jones committed to the Cardinals out of the junior college ranks on Monday. The rising sophomore, originally from Memphis, averaged 18/5/4 APG in leading his Northwest Florida State team to a 26-1 record and an appearance in the NJCAA Division I championship game last year. According to Jones, Rick Pitino does not want the reins of his offense in a freshman point guard’s hands, so if things work out properly he’ll have upperclassman leadership at that position for the next three seasons.
  5. Speaking of Pitino and in light of Jim Calhoun’s recent retirement, CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander took a look at the 11 current college basketball coaches with at least one national title and handicapped each one’s probable date of retirement. Be sure to take a look at his entire list, but he’s got more than half of those guys — six, to be exact — retiring within the next four years. The exercise here is one that depends on so many different and volatile factors (health, family, motivation, recruiting, etc.), but it says here that Pitino won’t hang up the whistle until he gets that elusive and self-validating second championship, while Krzyzewski is only likely to do so after he wins his fifth. Time will tell.
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