The NCAA had a chance to drop the hammer on a school that had been accused of a major academic scandal, but its own rulebook allowed the University of North Carolina to get off scot-free.
By doing so, the NCAA let down student-athletes and universities across the country.
The scandal, which was first uncovered six years ago, involved allegations of UNC offering sham classes in a “shadow curriculum.” Under this, students enrolled in classes in the African Studies department that did not require much work and did not often meet.
These classes ran for nearly 20 years, from 1993-2011. Sometimes all the work that was required to pass the course was a single paper.
While the classes ended six years ago, the NCAA finally announced its decision on Oct. 13 that UNC would get no punishment.
“The record did not establish that the university created and offered the courses as part of a systemic effort to benefit only student-athletes,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said, according to The Athletic.
Essentially, UNC was providing a platform for student-athletes to cheat in getting an easier route in their education. Regular students also being involved in these classes should hold no bearing on the situation, as student-athletes still benefitted directly.
Over the 18-year span in which the classes were offered, about 3,100 students enrolled, nearly half being athletes, according to The Athletic. Not even North Carolina disputed the “sham” classes, and yet, the school found loopholes in the NCAA’s 400-page rulebook.
So, what is stopping another university from doing the same thing? As far as anyone can tell, there is nothing currently in place that can stop other universities from following UNC’s old model.
One of the loopholes that allowed UNC to receive no punishment was that no one was helping the athletes cheat. The athletes may have not been cheating in the classes themselves, but UNC running this program cheated athletes of their education.
A small percentage of student-athletes go on to professional careers, and many may not even participate in their sport once they graduate college. It is then the university’s responsibility to prepare student-athletes for futures after sports are no longer a part of their lives, therefore putting education as a priority.
By the NCAA not levying a single punishment to UNC, student-athletes were let down. How can athletes be prepared for their futures when they are provided with sham classes that do not challenge them? Yes, student-athletes are busy and may need relief from their class schedules, but that does not mean to short change them of their education.
University athletic activities get athletes through four years of their lives, but education lasts a lifetime. Easy classes provide temporary relief, but also permanent harm to the students that take them.
Just because UNC’s sham classes were not student-athlete exclusive does not mean the university did not fail in its responsibility to put education before athletics. Yet, six years later it was determined that UNC broke no NCAA rules.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with a student enrolling in a reputedly ‘easy’ course whether the purpose of taking the course is to balance the student’s schedule, remain academically eligible to be a full-time student, meet academic scholarship requirements or to simply boost one’s GPA,” North Carolina argued, according to The Athletic.
Student-athlete or not, these African Studies courses that ran for 18 years had harmful effects and fostered lazy behavior from the 3,100 students that took them. UNC did not directly help student-athletes cheat, but they sure showed students an easy way out in a defining time where students shape their careers.
Come to UNC for the athletic programs, stay for the easy courses that will not prepare athletes for life after sports. Yet, the NCAA decided this did not break rules.
At least now student-athletes know where the NCAA stands and what they can get away with.
Elizabeth Swinton is a broadcasting and visual media major from Linden, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @eswint22.