North Carolina Tar Heels academic fraud revelations highlight “Schooled”



The EPIX documentary “Schooled: The Price of College Sports” has a couple eye-opening and shocking revelations, even to someone like me who has college basketball and college football “scandal fatigue.” After Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno, all other scandals pale in comparison to Penn State.

The primary revelation in “Schooled” revolves around the North Carolina Tar Heels academic services.

Mary Willingham, learning specialist at UNC-Chapel Hill, (Photo Credit: EPIX) talks about the “paper classes” that North Carolina Tar Heels on the football team take. These courses are simply: write one paper and turn it in.

You don’t have to go to class. Just turn in the paper and you pass.

I have a friend who’s a Literature Professor for a Big East school. He once told me off-the-record of offering the same exact deal to a guy who went on to play point guard in the NBA for over a decade.

That future NBA baller told my Prof friend he was illiterate, and “your class is an ocean of words. You’re throwing me directly into the ocean and I can’t even swim.” Rather clever, especially for a guy that couldn’t read or write.

Related: Tar Heels announce future home and home series with the Illini


Back to the North Carolina Tar Heels, Willingham said she had to tutor football players that required working on basic letters and sounds. Basic skills we all pick up in kindergarten. Another academic tutor in the film talked about a football player that “wanted to go into Engineering because he liked choo-choo trains.”

Not joking.

Serious here.

Other worthwhile snippets from “Schooled” beyond the North Carolina Tar Heels academic fraud:

-Walter Byers, first executive director of the NCAA, serving from 1951 to 1988, invented the term “student-athlete” simply to keep Universities protected from paying workman’s compensation benefits, or wrongful death benefits. That’s all the phrase “student-athlete” means. It’s just a legal definition  protecting schools from being potentially sued by players.

-In one of his final public appearances, Byers had a sort of Dr. Frankenstein remorse for what he created, referring to the system he had so much influence in building as having a “neo-plantation mentality.”

-The notion of amateurism was started by the nobles in England; simply to keep all other classes out of sports. The aristocracy wanted to keep athletics for themselves and shut out the working man and lower classes. What group of people have the time and energy for an activity that doesn’t pay? Only the rich leisure class. (actually sounds a lot like the media industry by the way)

This notion of amateurism was then brought over to the elite institutions of the Ivy League, which founded college athletics, and the other schools picked it up from there. “Schooled” also tells us about the notion of the ancient Greek Olympics being romanticized amateurs is total b.s. Greek Olympians were proud and well compensated mercenaries.

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An analyst for 95.7 The Fan and 1620 The Zone, he also writes for Chicago Now. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and Facebook

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  1. I taught at a Big Ten school when I was a graduate student and had the center of the basketball team and a wrestler in my classes. I never, ever got a call from the AD or either of the coaches. Both students got the grades they earned and I had no complaints. But I’m tired of athletes getting unfair academic advantages simply because of their genetic mutations. The time has come to be honest about college sports and just make them minor leagues for the pros.

  2. absolutely right. academic fraud is college athletics is starting to become a non-story. Let’s just follow your advice and make it a non-story, by simply making it a minor league

  3. Isn’t Willingham the one who, in a previous investigation, stated that athletics had no place at the University?

  4. UNC-CHeats!

  5. Dave / New Mexico says:

    If you want to major in Afro-American studies…UNC is the place to be.

  6. Holden Thorpe says:

    Now you see why I jumped off the ratship that is UNC!

  7. Dean Smith says:

    i truly am a genius for setting all of this up. “the carolina way” started with charley scott and continues to this very day.

  8. After seeing this situation unfold for almost three years now, I think the only level-headed conclusion is that UNC shouldn’t have college sports. I know that might sound crazy to sports fans, who will just want to adjust and tweak to eliminate some of the worst excesses. But what UNC has is a culture that is dominated by a sports-first mentality, with corruption at every level. You can’t fix that problem with tweaks and adjustments. What you need is a reboot – a change that’s significant enough to drive the problem people away.

    My suggestion is that UNC should look long and hard at the University of Chicago model for athletics/academics balance. Strong medicine, perhaps, but is there any doubt it will work?

    I would give the same advice to any school that is better known for sports than for what the university actually exists to do. However, I think UNC is the most blatant case in the nation today, and that university’s only way to restore its honor is to say, forget about ESPN, forget about sales of t-shirts, forget about the few million dollars we make from sports, forget about the decisionmakers’ own enjoyment of Tar Heel sports … set all that aside to preserve and enhance the multi-billion dollar university and its core mission.

    And I know there are a lot of people who think sports are how you get people interested in your school, raise applications, etc. There may be some truth in that, but seems like the University of Chicago, Cal-Tech, the Ivy League and a number of other schools I could name get plenty of applicants and are well-known to the general public.

  9. “UNC is dominated by a sports culture”. LOL. 60% of students at UNC are girls, smart ones at that. So are the remaining 40%, men. Sports is big at UNC because of its fans, many of whom are alumni. As an alumnus, I follow UNC sports more now than I did when I was a student. I think this might be the case with most UNC alumni. UNC is academics first, be clear on that.

  10. Saying that academics comer first at unc-ch is beyond ridiculous! Hundreds of fake classes, hundreds of unauthorized grade changes, plagiarized papers, tutors doing the work for the athletes, athletes taking money from agents, athletes using rental cars provided by convicted felons… the list just keeps growing daily. unc-ch is the perfect example of an institution that is out of control. Academics are the last thing on anyone’s mind in chapel hill.


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