‘College’ missing in college athletics

Published 6:18 pm Sunday, October 26, 2014

I remember it as plain as day; I was manager for our high school basketball team and I’d left the towels back at school during a road trip game. When asked what happened I told a lie. Worse, I told a lie I ended up getting caught in.

I was punished for my indiscretion – suspended from team activities for a month.  Afterward my coach, who as a mentor was also a dispenser of sage advice more than he was a wizard with the X’s and O’s, gave me the 15 greatest words to live by: There is no one in life so big that you have to lie to them.

I thought about that this week as I read the news out of Chapel Hill on the Kenneth Wainstein report about UNC athletes taking phony college classes.

It’s a double hurt because my heart bleeds Carolina Blue and I hate this stain on such a reputable institution.

I also hate it for the legacy of the late William Friday, the longest tenured president in UNC history.  It was Friday who helped NC State and UNC through the scandal of the old Dixie Classic basketball tournament. And it was Friday who in 1989, as founding co-chairmen of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, that pushed for more control of athletics by university presidents, rigorous academic standards for athletes and certifying athletic departments that run their sports programs in a fiscally responsible, equitable and ethical manner.

Now comes Wainstein’s report showing the breadth and depth of the phony classes that existed for nearly 20 years and a seeming collective failure to end it.

“Ghost” classes that didn’t exist, along with plagiarized papers read and “graded” by not a professor, but a professor’s assistant, and all for what, to keep athletes eligible.

There’s plenty of blame to share in this sad episode: from the people who pulled this off to those who enabled it, and sadder still to those who benefited from it.

And now so many of them run for cover because they can face the truth: that giving less-than qualified college students a fake education was in some way helping them.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt has said the clean-up began when all of this came to light. She apologized on Wednesday, but to whom: the dedicated personnel who brought this out, to still disbelieving faculty and students, or to betrayed alums like me?

They re-built after the collapse of the Dixie Classic, they’ll rebuild again.

I remember something else Bill Friday said in crafting a balance between college sports and academics: We should find a way to emphasize the ‘college’ in college athletics.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.