If your only exposure to NCAA shenanigans are those that involve Penn State, you may not be familiar with what has been going on at the University of North Carolina.
To make a long story short, UNC has been dealing with widespread academic fraud issues with a number of current and past athletes.
Most recently, there are reports that UNC offered a number of no-lecture, paper-only classes that athletes were encouraged to take, according to an article from The News & Observer’s website.
Basically, an athlete would research his topic, extensively quote the resources found, copy and paste all of that into a document, and take it to a tutor who would help them paraphrase and correctly cite the material to prevent plagiarism.
In documents between the academic support staff, tutors often complained about the level of work they had to put into the papers to make them at least presentable, and the inability and reluctance of the athletes in creating college-quality work themselves, according to an article on the The News & Observer’s website.
The response by the higher ups was generally that they understood the tutors’ frustrations, but to do the best they can because the class is known to be remedial — and substandard work was to be expected.
This problem of how to administer the education part of college to athletes in the revenue sports is one every university has to deal with.
It is an inevitable consequence of the entire college sports complex, where superior basketball and football players are required to accept a college education as payment for their athletic performances.
Without a fundamental restructuring of how we train and pay athletes in the future, the whole convenient fiction of the “student-athlete” will perpetuate the perverse incentives that necessitate UNC’s behavior.
Make no mistake about it: College athletes are already being paid.
A college scholarship is payment. While some see the promise of a higher education as a just reward for big-time college athletes, all I see are the billions of dollars generated from these sports and wonder if this is a fair tradeoff.
If we agree that athletes are already being paid in the form of their scholarships, then the question of whether this is enough comes next.
To me, it’s unfathomable that anyone could argue that the athletes whose performances are the substance of these industries must accept the, let’s say $50,000 per year — most of which is eaten up in what passes for an education — despite what their services actually generate.
How can we say with a straight face that college football, a sport only surpassed by the NFL in popularity in this country, should only pay its participants a tiny fraction of what the schools, the NCAA, the TV networks, the merchandisers and everyone else makes?
The other benefit of college football and basketball is the training for the professional ranks. In this way, college athletes are not unlike the rest of us, hopefully learning here the tools that will prepare us for our jobs in the future.
The best physical, mental and high-profile preparation for the NBA and NFL is in college, so if you aspire to become a professional player, you happily sign that letter of intent that dedicates the next one to five years of your life to a university.
But what goes along with that drive to go pro are the requirements of the scholarship.
To continue to train with your coaches and fellow players, you have to take classes unrelated to your planned future, read books you likely are unequipped to fully comprehend due to your completely reasonable prioritization of your athletic intelligence, more so than your mental side, and squeak out grades just good enough to keep your academic eligibility for the next semester.
All of this extra time and energy spent next to the rigorous sport-focused training that, if you do not perform admirably at, will jeopardize your real goals of going pro and may cause public ridicule by your fellow students whose non-class time is, like yours, spent worrying about sports, just on a completely different level.
We should not be surprised, then, when athletes and athletic departments cut corners to ensure that their incredibly valuable and unconscionably cheap golden geese keep their athletic eligibility and the money flowing.
Thus, tutors are employed, blow-off classes created and athletes counseled on which classes to take, all in the proud name of amateurism, whatever that gives us.
The athletes that do make it at the next level lose out on a real education that could help them better deal with life as a professional athlete.
The ones who can’t make it as a pro have to find some other way to make a living, all too often with college credits, but no degree — and without the money they generated for others, but scarcely benefited from themselves.
The schools lose face in the eyes of the public who snicker at the prioritization of sports over education at that university without for a second considering if their school is any different or just hasn’t been caught yet.
And the NCAA in a perverse way gains credibility, it’s like the cop who busts you for public intoxication, despite owning the bar you just left.
William Haisley is a third year law student and is the Collegian’s Wednesday columnist. Email him at email@example.com