'Carolina Way' needs direction

COMMENTARY
Jul. 31, 2014 @ 09:14 PM

A former North Carolina player was caught with marijuana at a house owned by Roy Williams in December, but the Hall of Fame coach never had to answer a single question about it.

Chances are, it might have come up at least once if Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari was involved in a similar situation. But that just shows you how much Williams had been dealing with last season.

His top player didn’t play a minute after accepting thousands of dollars in improper benefits. His only scholarship senior was suspended for nine games for making similar mistakes. A UNC reading specialist said that one of Williams’ former players was illiterate.

And besides, there was the up-and-down performance of the team, which balanced massive upsets with dumbfounding losses, won 10 straight games in the ACC and then went 1-2 in the postseason.

It all added up to what Williams said was the toughest year he’d ever had as a coach — and that was before someone actually pointed the finger at him for having direct knowledge of any misconduct.

That didn’t happen until this summer, when former player Rashad McCants said that he benefited from rampant fraud in UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies, and that McCants was “100 percent” sure that Williams knew about the phony system.

Williams strongly denied knowing anything, and without any corroborating evidence it turns into an issue of one person’s word against the other. That doesn’t bode well for McCants, though his claim that he got straight A’s in four “no-show” AFAM independent studies classes during the 2005 championship season is backed up by his transcript.

What is the head coach’s culpability for any of this? Should he have known that two of his starters were palling around with a felon in Durham during their careers? The basketball office checks to make sure players go to class — should Williams have wondered why McCants never had to attend one?

Remember, football coach Butch Davis wasn’t fired because the NCAA accused him of wrongdoing. Instead, Davis was dismissed because his associate head coach was accepting money from an agent, his top players were getting free flights, other players received illegitimate academic help from his son’s tutor — and in the end, it didn’t even matter if Davis did anything wrong. Ignorance was not a good-enough excuse.

So what should Williams have known?

No basketball player committed a violent crime while at UNC or made the campus less safe because of his presence. Part of Leslie McDonald’s suspension last year came because he slept on Johnny Tillett’s couch in Nags Head after working as a counselor at Tillett’s basketball camp. In no other world except the NCAA’s is that seen as a punishable offense.

But at a school like North Carolina, where the men’s basketball program is the most visible part of the university, there comes a time when too many negative headlines becomes damaging enough no matter how serious the charges are.

So what should be done? Some are suggesting that UNC take down the 2005 national championship banner, or that the NCAA should hand down penalties to future teams.

But taking down a piece of cloth and vacating wins is pointless. There’s no taking back the celebrations or the memories. And there’s no sense in putting a postseason ban on the players from the 2015-16 team who were in elementary school when McCants played here.

Thanks to some extraordinary digging by N.C. State fans and some astounding FERPA-breaking stupidity by UNC employees, a transcript from former Tar Heels football star Julius Peppers was unearthed that certainly makes it seem like the AFAM department was used by athletes to bolster their GPAs since before 2000.

By all means, UNC should find out what violations were committed, about who knew what and when. But the AFAM department has been cleaned up. The chancellor, the provost, the athletics director, the AFAM department’s chairman, the head of compliance — they’re all gone.

The right move now is to look forward. The school should take the lead on improving the lives of its athletes, unilaterally if it can, while pressuring other schools to follow suit. “Complete Carolina,” a program that allows some former athletes to complete their degrees, was a good start. Next, offer guaranteed four-year scholarships and future health care for injuries. Make sure an athletics scholarship is as good as the best academic one. Reduce the number of hours that students must spend on their sports.

You no longer hear UNC officials say “The Carolina Way” because it no longer means what it once did. If the school has the guts to make some changes, it could mean something once again.

Reach Harold Gutmann at hgutmann@heraldsun.com. He’s on Twitter, too: @haroldgut.

 

 



Reach Harold Gutmann at hgutmann@heraldsun.com. He’s on Twitter, too: @haroldgut.