10/27/2014 12:28 pm ET Updated Dec 27, 2014

It Is a Shame, It Was a Sham

A scathing discovery just revealed that football and basketball athletes attending the much-revered University of North Carolina had received passing grades for courses they never took, primarily because the classes didn't exist.

It is alleged that from 1993 to 2011, some academic advisers in the university's athletic department worked with a manager in the African and Afro-American Studies department, and later with the department chairman. He was forced to resign in 2012 and was charged with fraud for holding summer classes that did not exist. Those charges were dropped when he agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

The cabal allowed "student" athletes to take classes (or pretend to do so), to boost their grade point averages to a 2.0 (barely a C), and keep them eligible in their respective sports.

The Right Paper
Is a Class Act

"Student" athletes could write a paper of at least ten pages rather than attend lectures or meet with professors (if any did exist), and they would typically "earn" an A or B+ grade. It is not known for sure, who wrote the required paper.

The advisers pushed to make exceptions for athletes, including letting them enroll in classes after the registration period was over.

The report on the sham was conducted over an eight-month period and included 126 interviews.

Indignant Leaders
Just Didn't Know

After the report appeared, the horrified university president said, "This scheme marked a horrible chapter in the history of this great university." The university's chancellor joined in the how-could-this-happen chorus, "Like everyone who reads it, I feel shocked and disappointed," and added for indignant emphasis, "When we find people who are accountable, we will take decisive action." They may possibly do so within another eighteen-year span.

No coach has been accused of being involved in the sham, and both the football coach and the basketball coach Roy Williams denied knowing what went on. Williams has been the coach since 2003.

The UNC basketball team appeared as one of the Final Four teams in 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2005, 2008 and 2009.

To reach the Final Four, a team has to win five games, and each final four team earned $9.6 million for its conference.

That's the Way
The Ball Bounces

In my more than thirty years of teaching journalism courses at the university level, there has seemingly always been a way that some students have tried to cheat the system. Whether it is by "borrowing" words and ideas from already published papers, or by two students sitting side-by-side in the back row while taking a multiple-choice exam, and coming up with the same answers on every question. I had a male and female student that perpetrated that sham, and when I confronted them with a choice to either walk with me into the dean's office and explain the results, or drop the class. They quickly accepted the latter.

At that same Midwestern, Jesuit Catholic University, I would occasionally get "student" athletes in my classes. One unprepared, second-string guard on the basketball team, was averaging a D in the multiple-choice exams, and needed a strong, well-researched and well-written paper to maintain his eligibility. He was an affable young man; whose language skills were below average, yet his final paper was elegantly written with the proficiency of a college graduate.

I brought him into my office to discuss the ideas he had promulgated, and when I asked him specific questions, he was unable to answer any of them. The graduate assistant, who had probably written his paper, had neglected to help him understand the content or to rehearse the player the way an attorney rehearses a witness, prior to putting him or her on the stand.

I called the assistant basketball coach after that meeting, and gave him a choice. He could advise the player to either take a late drop in the class, or he would have to visit the dean to discuss the paper.

The player dropped the class.

The more times change,
The more they are the same.