There is a famous quote widely attributed to former Green Bay Packer football coach, Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
When asked about the statement years later, Lombardi took a more nuanced approach, "Winning isn't everything. The will to win is the only thing."
Lombardi saw this desire to put everything on the line transcended the final outcome.
This latter clarification suggests Lombardi was aware that winning as a stand alone, zero-sum enterprise, could also bring out the worst in human nature.
It has been recently revealed what can occur when the price of winning (or at least the potential to win) becomes the overriding obsession, where revenue trumps character, and the dark side of college athletics falls neatly into an amoral paradigm that would make Machiavelli proud.
For roughly two decades, the University of North Carolina has been involved in a "shadow curriculum" for athletes and others. These so-called courses required no attendance and very little work.
UNC President Tom Ross and Chancellor Carol Folt charged independent attorney Kenneth Wainstein last February with conducting a comprehensive investigation regarding the phony class scheme.
Wainstein report included the following:
Between 1993 and 2011, [Prof. Debby] Crowder and [Dept. Chair Julius] Nyang'oro developed and ran a 'shadow curriculum' within the AFAM [African and Afro-American Studies] Department that provided students with academically flawed instruction through the offering of 'paper classes.'
Adding, "These were classes that involved no interaction with a faculty member, required no class attendance or course work other than a single paper, and resulted in consistently high grades that (Deborah) Crowder awarded without reading the papers or otherwise evaluating their true quality."
The report also stated these paper courses held a special appeal among student-athletes involved in "revenue" sports such as football and men's basketball.
Crowder, who was primarily responsible for reading papers and fixing grades, reportedly told Wainstein she was motivated by her desire to help struggling athletes.
As tempting as it is to unleash the wrath of selective moral indignation toward the University of North Carolina between completing my March Madness brackets and debating who will play in the newly aligned college playoff system, there is a larger issue.
The infraction of the University of North Carolina strikes at the heart of a collective ignorance to accept the mythical notion of student-athlete. It is a harmless shibboleth that fosters the image that all are students, however, a select few are also involved in extra-curricular activities.
But the origin of the term is far from any Norman Rockwell painting, but rather a nebulous phrase designed for colleges and universities to avoid paying workers compensation to injured players.
Ironically, we applaud the nobility of amateur athletics, where the athlete is the only amateur.
It was recently reported that boosters from the University of Alabama paid off head football coach Nick Saban's $3.1 million mortgage, even though Saban earns a paltry $7 million annually in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Was this generosity due to Saban's exemplar graduation rate or his ability to win football games?
The dominant ethos for Division 1 football and men's basketball is not the valor of competition, but financial incentives. The current television contract for the men's 68-team basketball tournament alone is reportedly worth $11 billion.
Hiding behind the façade of "student-athlete," is it not in the interest of all concerned to treat dubious infractions, like those reported at the University of North Carolina, a la carte? This is not an indictment on every institution of higher learning. But the emphasis on winning for some demand that many campuses enroll athletes who are academically unprepared.
Should we be surprised that a university was caught fixing grades for athletes, or does true disbelief exist if it were proven unequivocally the University of North Carolina were the lone culprit?
What the grade-fixing scandal proves, not only is winning all that matters, the academic reputation of the school is not too high a price to pay in what can only be described as a Faustian bargain.