With the $16 billion college sports industry under siege from lawsuits and player-unionization efforts, one academic scandal—at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina—has come to represent key aspects of the debate about Division 1 football and basketball players. In response, UNC’s top leadership continues to try to deflect attention from widespread classroom misconduct by attacking the low-ranking staff tutor who helped reveal the scandal.
In 2011 the tutor, Mary Willingham, gave crucial assistance to Dan Kane, an intrepid reporter with the Raleigh News & Observer who uncovered the long-standing practice by academic advisers at Chapel Hill of steering basketball and football players into fake classes offered by the school’s black-studies department. The department pretended to offer lecture courses, but the classes never met. Students received A and B grades for submitting a single paper, which they often cobbled together from material copied from the Internet, according to Willingham.
University officials eventually acknowledged the main thrust of Willingham’s revelations: that more than 200 phony courses were offered and hundreds of grades were changed without authorization. In February, Bloomberg Businessweek published a cover article I wrote about Willingham and other secret academic enablers who keep the college sports business humming. CNN, HBO, andESPN have broadcast important stories about the UNC fiasco.