Saturday, October 25, 2014

Paper classes, paper deniability

This is not a story about what a man knew and when he knew it. It's about what he chose to know and when he chose to know it -- and, more to the point, what he chose not to know.

North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams claims to be "dumbfounded" by the 136 players out of his program that at one time were taking sham classes in the school's African-American Studies department. He claims to have noticed how many of his players were majoring in African-American Studies, and to have expressed his concern. But he also claims not to have known anything was fishy about it until an academic  counselor for the team, Wayne Walden, became suspicious.

Here's what I think: I think Roy Williams is no different than any other CEO coach in any of the nation's corporate college basketball or football programs.

I think their interest in their athletes' academic situations begins and ends with whether or not they're eligible and whether or not they're making progress toward some sort of "degree." Beyond that, their interest in how the academic sausage gets made is minimal. And that's precisely so they can be seen to be above the fray when an academic scandal breaks out.

As they have since time immemorial.

Let's be crystal about this: Nothing that apparently happened at North Carolina is new or unique to North Carolina. It's an old and time-honored scam that's been going on at collegiate football and basketball mills pretty much forever. Go back 30, 40, 50 years, and you'll find stud athletes being steered into Underwater Basket-Weaving 101 and Theory of the Jumpshot 205 on a regular basis.

Hell, Music Appreciation was pretty much invented as a way to keep 1,000-yard rushers eligible. And 40 years ago, I took an entry-level geology course at Ball State that went by a more common name: Rocks For Jocks.

So it's been going on forever, and so has Coach's deliberate distancing from the process. It's called plausible deniability, and these guys wear it like armor.

Not that not knowing excuses Roy Williams from culpability. The argument will be made, and it's a good one, that he should have known, because it's his program. And that if he didn't know, perhaps the program needs to find someone who's a little more ... connected.

I'm not saying that's going to happen. But given the intensity these days of 24/7/365 media scrutiny, ol' Roy might want to think about gussying up his resume. Because the heat's only begun.

Williams can claim to be as "dumbfounded" as he likes. But in the long run, that's not a defense.

It's an indictment.

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