Academic Fraud: The Locker Room Lineup

Academic Fraud

“Student-Athletes” or just “Athletes?”

Rashad McCants, a member of the 2004 – 2005 University of North Carolina (Tar Heels) Championship Men’s Basketball team has come forward telling an interesting story about academic fraud and exploitation at the storied college basketball school. While McCants story is new, the issue is not.

McCants allegations about academic fraud are that he had papers written for him, was given answers to tests and took “no-show” classes in the African-American Studies department (AFAM). This support helped him remain eligible to play basketball at UNC.

The grades McCants earned through these classes are reflected in his transcripts which show that he got A’s and B’s in the AFAM classes and C’s, D’s and F’s in those offered through other departments. Hence, the academic fraud.

In fact, McCants went from almost being declared academically ineligible one semester to the Dean’s List the next. Completely possible but highly improbable. All this due to a heavy concentration of AFAM classes with prearranged academic outcomes.

Ethics or Eligibility? – Coaches Are (ALWAYS) Shocked!

When presented with these kinds of academic fraud stories, coaches at Division 1 (D1) schools are always in disbelief. Of course, they are. Say anything else and you’re basically admitting that you’re complicit to a major college, sports related, academic problem.

According to McCants “You’re not there to get an education, you’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”

ESPN’s reporting that Roy Williams (a very successful and well-regarded D1 men’s basketball coach) “is ‘bothered’ by the academic fraud allegations” and he should be. Williams claims to have known nothing about the academic “don’t go to class – get an A” fraud issue – McCants says he did.

Either way, college coaches, in major revenue generating D1 sports, are being paid a ton of money. So, the expectation is that they “should know” aside from the efforts of the athletic compliance departments.

College athletic compliance departments track the academic performance of student-athletes in the classes they’re taking. That’s a solid first step. However, given the circumstances in the UNC case, that may not be enough. Clearly, there were systemic academic fraud issues going on behind the scenes at the university that the compliance department was (allegedly) unaware of.

The Scope of the Problem – Bigger than this story

Our contention about major, revenue generating college sports: Where there’s BIG money academic fraud follows. The scope of the problem? Using the 80-20 historical fraud rule (20% known – 80% unknown), this isn’t just an isolated incident which happened at UNC and nowhere else.

Academic fraud is a much larger epidemic that takes place in some capacity on every major D1 college campus for large revenue generating sports (basketball and football). Maybe it doesn’t reach the extent of the UNC AFAM abuse but it does occur.

Anecdotally speaking of academic fraud or athletic department favoritism (whatever you want to call it): I recall when I was an undergrad at a major D1 school, there was a football player being “tutored” in a class I was taking by a strong academic performer (Read: “A” student).

To illustrate the abuse that takes place when student athletes are involved, the professor ultimately gave the tutor a “B” in the class while the football player received an “A.” In retrospect, while we all found that amusing at the time, I now ponder how’s that even possible?

While the focus of this story is on UNC’s academic issues, the reality here is that there’s a much larger net that needs to be cast across all revenue generating college sports. The word “revenue generating” is key to this discussion because some men’s and women’s NCAA D1 sports are on “life support,” barely able to field teams year after year.

The revenue generation is the issue here as seldom do you find the student-athletes from non revenue generating sports even referenced in these kinds of stories.

New Problem or Old Problem?

The McCants story illustrates a significant problem involving widespread academic abuse: no-show classes or limited involvement in classes, cheating (other student’s writing papers or taking assessments for them), grade changes, and earning passing grades through faked academic results.

According to ESPN, the academic issues are supported by UNC’s very own findings from an earlier investigation:

“Since 2011, the university has conducted several reviews related to the academics scandal and provided the NCAA with updates. North Carolina announced in 2012 that it had found problems with 54 classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011, including grade changes, forged faculty signatures on grade rolls and limited or no class time.

North Carolina forwarded the results of that investigation to the NCAA, which ruled the university did not break any [NCAA] rules related to the AFAM scandal.”

The NCAA’s Interpretation

The University didn’t break any rules related to AFAM. Really? What planet must you be living on to see these kinds of egregious academic issues and issue a report finding that a college didn’t break any [NCAA] rules? Seriously?!

While the NCAA may have found that UNC did not violate any NCAA rules, they certainly broke quite a few college, academic, integrity and ethics related rules. In support of that point, there’s now a criminal investigation into the AFAM scandal and a widening probe of UNC’s potential academic fraud issues by prosecutors interested in the pattern of academic abuse.

This kind of “flawed logic” demonstrates the magnitude of the problem in the collegiate sports system when the regulatory body for college sports doesn’t even find rules violations when presented with overwhelming academic fraud evidence.

This is a clear and compelling call for new NCAA rules if there ever was one. The NCAA has now reopened their previous investigation as a result of McCants new allegations. This strikes me as “odd” given that UNC reported academic fraud issues to the NCAA two years earlier.

The Bottom Line – the System’s Broken and Something Must Change

Academic fraud. This isn’t a new problem, it’s been going on for some time and it’s not limited to UNC. This is a systemic problem associated with major revenue generating D1 colleges sports. Let’s face it, college sports is BIG business… generating millions of dollars in revenue for successful D1 schools so there’s pressure to win and win now!

Using the proven “follow the money” trail, this supports the fact that there are quite a few academic fraud related issues associated with these kinds of revenues as schools look for a “competitive edge.”

Let’s call major college sports exactly what they are: pro sports (basketball and football’s) “minor leagues.” There’s some truth to this analogy as some successful D1 college athletes leverage their college playing experience into lucrative pro sports contracts.

In major revenue generating sports, D1 colleges either need to remove the word “student” from the phrase “student-athlete,” then take them out of the classroom and academic environment (recognizing these kids for what they are: “athletes” making money for us) OR they need to enforce the word “student” in student-athlete and get serious about academics.

If athletes in major D1 sports aren’t students, who earn grades honestly and fairly, based on true academic performance, then let’s pay them for their craft and rid the college athletics system of the academic fraud abuses associated with this kind of nonsense.

Those are my insights. What are yours?