Sports Scandal: What Did UNC Leaders Know, and When Did They Know It?

“Although we in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes are capable of supporting many student athletes who are not as academically prepared as most UNC students, there have been many student-athletes who were specially admitted whose academic preparedness is so low they cannot succeed here.”

More propaganda from Mary Willingham, the “rogue” reading specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose supposedly bogus research suggesting that UNC athletes are essentially illiterate is merely a prop for her book- writing deal (if one listens to rabid Tar Heel defenders)?

Or is it a comment out of the distant past, before the old athletics administration was swept out of office?

No, the above statement is from an email sent to new chancellor Carol Folt by Bradley Beal, another reading specialist whose job it is to get UNC athletes reading and writing up to the collegiate level. And he was only hired as recently as 2011.

Also coming out of the well-polished UNC woodwork is a former dean and emeritus professor of Slavic languages, Madeline Levine. In an article in the Raleigh News & Observer, she said that she “was made aware of instances in which the university has admitted athletes with substantial academic challenges, including one she suspected was ‘functionally illiterate’ during her tenure.”

Even before Bethel and Levine emerged, UNC was backpedalling from its vicious attacks on Willingham and her research. The school’s leaders realized that they had walked out on a limb by resting their entire case—and possibly their careers—on whether Willingham’s research would stand up to academic scrutiny.

For some reason, possibly a peek at that research revealing sound data and conclusions, Folt quickly shifted into defense mode. She made a big splash at a UNC Trustees meeting announcing that the school was responsible and accountable for hundreds of courses in the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department that were essentially guarantees of “no-show, no-work, good grades.” These courses were frequently taken by athletes in the revenue-producing sports of football and men’s basketball, particularly by those with eligibility questions. Previously, the school had blamed the former department chair and his assistant, who are gone from the university; Folt said it was also the school’s “failure in academic oversight.”

Yet, upon closer inspection, Folt’s mea culpa appears to be nothing more than another stage in the damage control campaign the school has been waging for the last three-and-a-half years. She confined her talk to well-worn paths; she did not, for instance, address the comments made a couple of weeks ago by a former football player, who reported that he was directed toward the no-show AFAM classes by academic advisors working with the athletic department. Nor did she directly deal with Willingham’s claims.

And while she said the school deserved “scrutiny” of its conduct, she did not admit that there was—and is—continued corruption inherent in keeping low-functioning athletes eligible. 

In fact, it would seem her statements were really intended to prevent her own head from rolling when Mary Willingham’s tales of illiterate student-athletes were inevitably proven true. And that truth is even more likely to be confirmed now that Levine and Beal have come forward.

A couple of other notes: Here is a story on Mary Willingham’s (not-so) insidious intentions. It seems she has deliberately crafted her career in order to help those who most need help in overcoming learning difficulties.  (Also, check out this  interview with Willingham and a supporter on the UNC faculty, Jay Smith.)

And, just to make sure that my comments are not seen as a criticism of UNC-Chapel Hill alone, but of the entire world of big-time college sports and its corrupting influence on the academy, here’s a little tidbit that came to light with a report to the UNC System’s Board of Governors on university athletics (on page 8): At North Carolina State University, the freshman basketball recruits average 780 (combined math and reading) on their SATs. (Chapel Hill’s were not reported because they had fewer than three freshman scholarship players.)

Given such abysmal numbers (at a school where the average SATs are roughly 1200), chances are that at least one player on the State team is functioning at the level where you need a cash register to be able to make change for a dollar—and possibly need pictures on that cash register to tell you what buttons to press instead of words. 

The problem is throughout all college sports; NCAA’s Division I in the revenue sports is one big sewer.


Jay Schalin is Director of State Policy at The John William Pope Center


I am so glad that someone is treating this issue as something serious. UNC Leaders have denied, hidden, and distorted the facts for so long that it is refreshing to finally see some UNC professors and staff stepping forward with what is really going on. They want to protect those Banners hanging in the Smith Center even though most of them were achieved with players that were likely ineligible to play due to fraudulent classes and grades., even if the reputation of UNC is dragged thru the mud in the process.
I'm not sure dragging NC State into the mix is completely necessary, although I do understand the method of comparison. After all they do recruit players of similar backgrounds. The factor that truly differentiates and tells a more compelling story would be a comparison between the graduation rates of Athletes at NC State and UNC-CH, especially so when broken down by race and compared to the student body at large. To extrapolate on that thought it is interesting to compare the academic casualties between the two schools. One of these will not be like the other, (Hint: it's UNC-CH) in fact one of these data sets will be unlike any in the entire NCAA, with the exception of maybe Notre Dame. I wonder how UNC-CH graduates 100% of its athletes?
It is sad that individuals are allowed to set foot on a college campus with SAT scores as low as 780. However, what is "ALARMING" is that unc-ch is "giving" these individuals diplomas via fake classes and grade changes. Coach Roy loves to make the claim that all his players have graduated, except one, while proudly pointing at those banners hanging in the dome. Take away the no-show classes, tutors doing the work for the players, professors accepting plagiarized papers and forged signatures on grade changes, then ask how many of the players on unc-ch's championship teams would have been eligible to partcipate in sports or remain in school? This problem isn't just about bad coaches and athletic directors. The enture athletic and academic leadership at unc-ch have participated in this "scam" for decades. The athletic and academic corruption at unc-ch runs deep and long.
I hope this is going to ultimately lead to unc-ch having to find some semblence of control of the university, for at this point, it is unsteerable. As far as State freshmen and their SAT scores? When I see any evidence that there are non-existent courses set up to keep them eligible, or that they are not performing at a level that at least keeps them legitimately eligible for competition, I want it rooted out of the university. But since they have yet to even complete their first full year as students (if this is current freshmen), it is blind speculation and has no merit being included in a discussion of rampant corruption at one of our state's public universities. It would not diminish my love for my school's athletics programs in the least if student-athletes had to adhere to the same qualifications as regular students for admission, and continuing in good standing as long as they are at the university.
200 Fake classes 500 unapproved grade changes at UNC. Cheating at its best.
I personally could care less how many special admits a college has for athletics. If they're unprepared and don't take advantage of the resources provided to them, they will simply flunk out. Most schools who are competitive do this and have acadmeic casualties. However, what UNC is guilty of is setting up a system in the form of grade changes, fake courses with plagarized/ungraded papers to keep athletes eligable. That, my friends, is called an unfair advantage. The NCAA should be hammering them for this. Its a slap in the face to other universities to let this go unpunished.
I am a fan of the University of Washington's basketball team. Coach Romar works very hard to recruit players and is an outstanding role model for our players. I can see now why UW suffers in mediocrity. The University of North Carolina has no integrity thus schools that honor the rules have no chance to compete in basketball. This makes me sad for the students and coaches who work hard with integrity.
Although I am not a UNC fan I had always respected the "Carolina Way." The glowing reports of 100% academic success of its student athletes was awe inspiring. Really kind of sad to see it all unraveling before our eyes. The athletic program at UNC was hijacked by an over zealous wealthy alumni and fans known as the Rams Club. No one can imagine the millions of dollars that have been donated and they are going to fight to their last dying breath to keep this ship afloat. To them the "Tarheels" are God!
Jay, I appreciate your well thought-out article, but I hope you'll see that by dragging in NC State into the mix at the end you've fallen squarely into one of the "well-worn paths," advanced by proponents of UNC-CH. All but a diminishingly small number of universities have policies that allow exceptions to normal admissions standards to be made in the cases of talented yet academically unprepared athletes. This is not news. The scandal at UNC-CH, and what distinguishes UNC-CH from other excellent, highly research intensive universities like NC State, is that UNC-CH kept its under-performing athletes eligible through a system of fraudulent classes, forged signatures, fraudulent grade changes, and condoned plagiarism. The reason for the incredulity, impatience, and anger of the residents of NC is that this scandal has been ongoing for years without any meaningful NCAA, UNC-CH BOT, UNC BOG, or SACS action (notice: NCAA sanctions in 2012 were in regards to impermissible benefits within the UNC-CH football program, and had nothing to do with the current academic scandal). There's no need to quote what we already know about other university's admissions policies for athletes to present an unbiased perspective, it only serves to distract from the real scandal.
When mentioning the disparity between the reported SAT scores of NCSU basketball recruits and the general student body, you might have also mentioned the disparity between the reported ACT scores of UNC basketball recruits and the general student body, which is almost as wide. Also, the unfounded pejorative attack on the NCSU basketball recruits in the next to last paragraph was out of place in an otherwise well reasoned article.
Why bring N C State into it. Why not TEXAS? It is all about UNC and you know it.
Why not disclose that James Martin is on you board. Are you trying to cover for his joke of an investigation.
Oh really...dragging NCSU into the UNC-CHeat is bush-league and a poorly veiled effort to distract readers from the UNC steaming pile that it's been exposed as. Another "neutral" author that sleeps in a powder blue UNC snuggie. Instead of trying to dance around the matter, simply compare graduation rates of UNC revenue sports athletes (including baseball) to the other ACC schools across the board. Seems like every kid that shows up in Chapel Hill gets a miracle score on the SAT and through good old fashioned hard work, becomes a can happen you know. Didn't you see The Blind Side? We all get it...UNC and it's fans are furious NCSU fans have exposed the cheating system. The tide went out and you got caught with no pants on. Isn't almost 4 years of this foolish hiding game enough? Come clean, accept punishment and THEN you can move forward. The attacks on UNC will never cease until they come clean, are punished and the playing field is leveled. As a North Carolina taxpayer I'm also royally p*ssed off UNC continues to waste our money on crazy liberal education programs with no real world worth and paying outside firms to cover their cheating. The BOG & BOT, especially Mr. Ross need to be thrown out on their asses and replaced with people of integrity.
So much fun to see pack PRiders get so upset when their school get's questioned. No, UNC fans are not furious at wolf peckers 4 year crusade. Most of us just laugh at this obsession with UNC. You folks could not get into your first choice out of High School at the nationally recognized UNC and had to go to a good regional university (and yes I do believe nc state is a good school). And, with UNC consistently beating nc state at a typical ratio of 9-1, the jealousy continues. Your post here has just made the wall of fame (shame) at IC as proof of this nc state obsession with UNC. Oh by the way, can you tell me all about the Rodney Purvis recruitment? I know nc state no longer claims him; but they did go all out in recruiting him from a paper mill high school - 3 graduates in 10 years? And who was the coach and who owned the school?
UNC's problems are not about easy classes. I doubt the NAACP will sit back and allow colleges to turn these athletes down. Every college has classes that cater to taking in the athlete that is below the normal student body. But having fake classes and not trying to educate the athletes at all is pitiful. McAdoo lost his eligibility and they promised him he could continue his education. Then used fake classes to keep him out of sight and out of mind. This is the Carolina Way.
Boy the NC State guys can dish it out but show them the mirror and the butt hurt is strong. That is all they really have if you really think about it. BUTT HURT.
Funny coming from a pie-rat. You guys always have been mouth breathers, to dumb to realize the poop storm from UNC-CH will roll right over Raleigh and straight on to Greenville before washing out to see. You're in the same boat as us "butt hurt" Pack guys, you just don't know it. How long do you think you can keep getting those wins in Chapel Hill before someone writes a book and your players get caught selling shoes....
Like I said. BUTT HURT. This is not about academic integrity. We have won 9 of the last 15 games in the football series(16-12 all time, your favor for now). A few more years and you guys and your lap dog dan kane will do a series on the Mighty Pirates to forfeit wins you could not earn against us. It's not UNC that will bring other schools down, it will be State fans who have feed the press to look at the academics of a school that has better incoming student athletes in regard to SAT's than your school or mine. Yes, I saw that " Our State Russell Wilson" Billboard. Pathetic. At some point, your going to have to tell yourself "I'm a State fan and that makes me a loser at life and that is OK."


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Posted by: Jay Schalin

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