Why UNC Is On My Hate List

Apr 4, 2022

I've been camping in nowheresville, Tennessee this weekend. Pretty much completely disconnected from civilization. Just like we like it. So not only have I not watched a single second of college basketball since we lost to Houston, I didn't even know the score of the two Final Four games until my phone found a signal and a push notification got through last night.

Actually I think my phone found the campground wifi. Because campgrounds have wifi in 2022. I don't hate it. It barely works, but hey, if you want to look up a trail map, it's nice to at least have a wifi option. Even if you have to walk to another part of the campground to assure you have a signal.

Anyway, the point is that I'm ignoring the Final Four just like I've done every season since 2005. But thanks to a group text and a few things I saw on Twitter, I see that Illini fans are fairly ~shrug~ when it comes to UNC. Everyone seems to hate Duke, but UNC seems to be a "who cares?" school to this fanbase. It's like Duke is Michigan basketball to this fanbase but UNC is only Minnesota. Shrugs all around.

I'm not there. I do not like UNC. I get that they get the benefit of being Duke's enemy, and since everyone hates Duke then the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But I have a purely Illini view of all things college basketball, and because of that, UNC is on the "never want to see them win" list.

Why? Well, for starters (obviously), they're the team that prevented us from winning our national title in 2005. Cleveland baseball fans have a special hatred for the Cubs - every reference to the Cubs World Series title is just another reminder of what almost was - and I have a special hatred for UNC. And yes, part of that is my internal "you have six titles and can't even let us have one" loser-talk.

But the bigger reason is their academic scandal. My feelings toward UNC are the same as anyone else who gets away with a crime. I want justice.

I should probably start with this. Stuff like this UNC academic scandal (we'll get into it soon, I promise) is a big reason I'm not an NCAA hater. I have serious questions about the way that the NCAA goes about certain things, but this whole culture of "there goes the stupid NCAA again" simply allows cheaters like North Carolina to slip off the hook. Everyone hates the NCAA, the NCAA doesn't do anything about North Carolina's academic scandal, and everyone screams "toothless NCAA" instead of actually investigating what happened and seeing that The University of North Carolina pulled a fast one. A very gross fast one.

To be honest, it drives me insane. North Carolina backed the NCAA into a corner, the NCAA had to respond with "we cannot do anything about academic accreditation" (because they can't), and everyone screamed at the NCAA instead of North Carolina while North Carolina's team of lawyers all high-fived each other. This culture of "stupid NCAA" allows so many schools to get away with so much.

I should just give you the recap because you already think I'm exaggerating. But first, a disclaimer:

It won't be possible for me to talk about all of this without you linking this to the 2005 title game. You're going to think that this is some "UNC should not have won the 2005 title so we're the real champions" kind of thing (like some Michigan fan claiming the 2013 title because Louisville had to vacate it). That's not what this is. A game was played and they won. I'm not trying to re-litigate 2005. This is purely about the scheme concocted by North Carolina in 2013 leading to them getting off the hook in 2017.

And by "scheme" I don't mean the scheme where they put together the "paper classes" at the center of this scandal. I'm referring to the scheme their administrators pulled to avoid NCAA punishment. I guess I should probably just start describing it.

For 18 years, North Carolina had athletes take fake classes in the Afro-American Studies department. Papers were "graded" by a secretary connected to the athletic department. They were simply fake classes to keep athletes eligible without having to do classwork. And yes, someone will say it in the comments if I do not, 10 of the players on the 2005 UNC team that beat Illinois in the title game were AFAM majors.

Gross as all of that is, for me, it doesn't come close to what came next. UNC had a problem. On one hand, there was an NCAA investigation. Their 2005 and 2009 titles might have to be vacated. On the other hand, there was a university accreditation issue. What if they lose their accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools?

So they came up with this scheme: start with the SACS. Beg for mercy. Let an independent investigation expose the harsh truth of the fake classes and then beg for mercy from the SACS. But you can't do that without exposing yourself to NCAA sanctions. So delay the NCAA investigation until accreditation is secured and then turn around and claim no academic fraud.

Here's the paragraphs on that from the NCAA report in 2017 (when it was announced that UNC would face no sanctions). I know it's long, but read it because it's important.

In an effort to understand what had occurred in its AFRI/AFAM department, the university or university system conducted six total reviews through early 2013. All the while, UNC continued to update SACS, its accreditor. It also communicated with the NCAA. In its review process, SACS reviewed information limited to what the internal and external investigations uncovered. In June 2013, SACS decided not to sanction UNC. That, however, was not the end of the story. Approximately two years later, SACS altered its original decision.

While completed reviews were informative, they merely peeled back additional layers surrounding the paper classes. Each review revealed more information related to inconsistent educational experiences in the AFRI/AFAM department and faculty's and staff's knowledge of the courses. Each, however, was hamstrung by the lack of participation of the two central actors--the department chair and secretary. Their absences prevented the inquiries from uncovering the true nature of the courses. That all changed in late 2013 when they became available for questioning after events connected to a criminal investigation.

In early 2014, the university system retained the Cadwalader firm to conduct yet another inquiry into the matter. Distinct from past inquiries, this review included the secretary's and the department chair's participation. After an extensive inquiry, the Cadwalader firm released its report. Among other observations, the report identified a new depth of understanding of the paper courses that occurred for approximately 18 years. Further, based on the firm's review of data and interviews with current and former staff members, the Cadwalader report found that the classes disproportionately favored student-athlete enrollments, the courses had a recognizable positive impact on GPAs and ASPSA personnel colluded with the AFRI/AFRAM department to benefit student-athletes.

This development prompted SACS to submit additional inquires to UNC, roughly 17 months after initially determining not to sanction UNC. In its response to SACS, UNC embraced the Cadwalader investigation, describing it as "monumental." UNC further explained the report provided "significant new information" related to the origin, breadth and scope of the conduct surrounding the courses. And UNC was "confident that not only was the investigation thorough and complete but that it covered a great deal of ground not possible previously." In its January 12, 2015, written response to SACS' additional inquiries, UNC also embraced SACS' characterization of the conduct as academic fraud. Specifically, UNC admitted that the Cadwalader report demonstrated that, "the academic fraud was long-standing and not limited to the misconduct of just [the department chair] and [secretary]." Based on the new information and UNC's January 2015 response to SACS' additional inquiry, SACS sanctioned UNC with one year of probation.

UNC's strong support of the Cadwalader report to its accreditor drastically shifted roughly three years later when UNC appeared before the COI. The institution disavowed the report, including its conclusion that ASPSA and AFRI/AFAM personnel colluded to benefit student-athletes. UNC also disavowed its previous use of the phrase academic fraud to SACS, telling the panel that it was merely a "typo" or oversight. UNC wholly reframed its position on the report.

We'll get to the "typo" in a bit. But some bullet points on what their team of lawyers concocted:

  • Due to the "criminal investigation", the department head and the secretary could no longer stay quiet. They were suddenly "available for questioning".
  • This led to the Cadwalader report which showed how far and wide the fraud had been. This meant that SCAS got involved again.
  • UNC threw themselves at the feet of SCAS and begged for mercy. This report had revealed "significant new information" which was "monumental."
  • Most importantly, they told SCAS that "the academic fraud was long-standing and not limited to the misconduct of just the department chair and the secretary."
  • They received one year of probation from the SACS (whew).
  • They then disavowed the Cadwalader report in front of the NCAA Committee On Infractions, now suddenly disagreeing with its conclusions.
  • As for the pesky part of the SACS response where they admitted to "academic fraud"? It was a "typo" in the report.

A typo. They actually claimed that it was a typo.

Why would they do this? Because they wanted the NCAA to have to prove the academic fraud. To do that, the NCAA would have to get into the business of accreditation. Is this a real class? Should that independent study class earn credit? Were those just fake classes to minimize the workload on student athletes? That's not the NCAA's job and they've always refused to get involved there. That's what university accreditation is for.

And that's what this NCAA report stated. Because UNC had done a 180 on the Cadwalader report and asked the NCAA to prove that these were fake classes benefiting student athletes, the NCAA basically could only say that they can't be in the business of deciding what is a class and what isn't a class. The NCAA could be involved if it was only student athletes taking the class (obvious athletic department fraud), but since UNC covered their tracks by having other students "take" the "classes", it then painted the NCAA into a corner where they would have to say "these were obviously fake classes just to keep athletes eligible". And the NCAA refuses to go there.

See how it worked? Admit to academic fraud and beg for mercy from SACS. "Here's the full report, and we know it's ugly, but we should get credit for commissioning the independent investigation." Then, once you get probation for that, tell the NCAA that you never admitted to academic fraud - it was a "typo." This puts the burden on the NCAA to have to prove that the fake classes were there to benefit student athletes. Which the NCAA won't do. Because that's what accreditors are for.

I'm of the belief that UNC will compete for the national title tomorrow night simply because of this scheme. Had they admitted that they had fake classes to keep athletes eligible, they would have received significant sanctions and likely would not have recovered (at least not to a national title game level) by 2022. Instead, they characterized the report one way to their accreditor and another way to the NCAA. And they got away with it.

For me, in a situation like this, I always think about the meeting that took place. The powers-that-be discussed the whole "then we'll disavow the Cadwalader report and claim that saying there was 'academic fraud' was a 'typo'" thing, and someone said "do you realize how dishonest that will make us look?", and someone else said "well what do you want - years of NCAA sanctions?" And whoever was in charge approved the lawyers to move forward with the "typo" defense.

To me, when that occurs, it's a full-stop "I never want that program to win." I don't want those slimy lawyers to be happy. I don't want university leadership to get away with "just make it go away even if we have to hilariously lie through our teeth." I just don't want to live in a world where those people win.

Because I'm already living in a world where those people won in 2005.


patbasu@gmail.com on April 4, 2022 @ 04:42 AM

Arguably one of the dirtiest moves in modern college sports history and I would say the greatest one that doesn’t get talked about or covered. Yes the FBI investigations at Louisville, arizona, Kansas, and others get headlines, deservedly so- but the UNC fraud is a full scale coverup involving dozens of senior administrators for nearly 2 decades. Amazing there isn’t a 30 for 30 or some documentary.

AlGoRhythmNBlueZ on April 4, 2022 @ 08:39 AM

Bravo! This is a superb essay with clear and specific reminders of what happened, reminders that should be repeated often and widely. This should never be forgotten! Beleaguered Kansas State and former Illinois coach Bruce Weber made a pained and heartfelt statement recently about these matters. The corruption is sickening and taints such a beautiful game. UNC should NEVER be in any tournament for 18-20 years. Compare punishments meted out to the University of Illinois and for what? And yet, there are Kelvin Sampson, Bruce Pearl, Bill Self, et al. and Roy Williams smiling and cheering from the stands at the NCAA tournament, yet again, being showered with praise and admiration (!) by media and other coaches.... Great thanks for this article. I bring up the UNC academic - and profoundly immoral -scandal at every opportunity. Maybe it's the pervasive influence of gambling on college sports, but more people should be outraged. The University of Illinois has many reasons to be outraged by the unfairness and disparity of punishments.

uilaw71 on April 4, 2022 @ 11:47 AM

The Slush Fund wasn’t a “so what”. Elton and Delton weren’t a “so what”. While I share the outrage, we haven’t historically been pure as the driven snow.

blackdeath on April 5, 2022 @ 01:04 AM

And we've done our penance and suffered, a lot, for decades. No comparison.

Douglascountyillinifan on April 5, 2022 @ 09:27 PM

You're actually putting pizzas and warm clothes on the same level as 3 decades of academic fraud?

1701phiillini on April 4, 2022 @ 01:12 PM

Our beloved’s incredible run of compliance with the NCAA is correlated with our beloved’s lack of measurable success on field and on court (8+ / sweet 16). One has to consider causation. Well done essay.

BamaIllini on April 4, 2022 @ 02:04 PM

I think the NCAA could have made two decisions, (1) UNC was bound to its original statement unless it provided proof that it informed SACS of its position switch (they would not have); and (2) concluded that while other students benefited the system was set up and designed to help athletes. UNC was smart because they knew the NCAA was week and would fall for their crap. I blame UNC and the NCAA. It is a black eye on both.

jdl on April 4, 2022 @ 02:51 PM

Probably not a popular opinion, but all the UNC mess did was show how completely detached the revenue sports are from the academic side of schools. So yeah it's irritating that they got away with this, but let's be honest - with NIL and "free agency" in place now, we're headed down a road where eventually we won't have to pretend that these athletes are truly "student athletes" in most cases. They'll be paid employees, have a union, collective bargaining agreement, etc. And it might kill that golden goose, but seems inevitable now. Those good ol' days are probably gone forever.

Dix on April 4, 2022 @ 04:28 PM

Well they've already lost the "employees"/unionization argument and doubt they will go there again anytime soon--especially with NIL. It was always about getting the Kofis and Ayos of the world paid -- not Brandon Lieb (who would be the main beneficiary of the "employee" argument given athletes like him probably aren't making much in the way of NIL). I don't think the student athlete part of it is going away, and it should continue to be enforced. Whatever the quote was in those NCAA commercials about most athletes going pro in something else besides sports is important. Getting a free college education from our nation's most prestigious universities remains important--and giving the vast majority some incentive to take that part seriously (despite their hubris making many believe they have a shot a pro sports when they don't) therefore remains important.

jdl on April 5, 2022 @ 03:28 PM

The "employee" argument is going to return because Congress is getting involved. The NCAA is a lame duck org and if the Feds start to decide these policies, it's going to look a LOT different.

illinijimbo on April 4, 2022 @ 06:15 PM

Go Kansas! Go Bill Self. Yeah, I said it.

skibdaddy on April 4, 2022 @ 07:37 PM

So ... "Go Kansas" tonight and hope they get their championship vacated later?

purcy51 on April 4, 2022 @ 09:36 PM

This is where I'm at.

Giovantischixstripz on April 4, 2022 @ 09:45 PM

Wow, consider me illuminated. I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me what the NCAA should have to prove isn't that there was academic fraud, but that the UNC admission of academic fraud wasn't a typo. Seems like they could get people on record from SACS that could provide evidence that it was not in fact a typo, but again, I am not a lawyer.

I have always hated UNC more than Duke anyways. 2005 plays a large part of it, but I treat Duke and K (although I definitely could have done without the farewell circus) like I treat Izzo, with an angry respect. Angry respect isn't the same level as blind hatred like I have for UNC, Kentucky, Kansas, and anything with Bruce Pearl (or Calvin Sampson to a slightly lower degree)

rml on April 4, 2022 @ 11:06 PM

Game tonight? Is there a game tonight?

Lou-a-villini on April 5, 2022 @ 02:33 AM

Rest up and do the Kansas essay tomorrow.

Pugz3305 on April 5, 2022 @ 03:54 AM

I’ll second this! I hate both UNC and Kansas!

Robert on April 5, 2022 @ 02:12 PM

I feel like Kansas doesn’t require me to educate anyone. They delayed the NCAA process as long as possible to try to win a title before it hit, they did, now they’ll self-impose (heh) like crazy in hopes that the NCAA won’t vacate this title.

That’s really the strategy for these blue bloods I think. Do you have to cheat at least a little to get a title. But don’t cheat so much that the title gets vacated. And yes, I realize how much that describes 1989 Illinois.

HailToTheOrange on April 6, 2022 @ 05:58 AM

Color me illuminated re UNC

But for those that say they don't have a beef with Bill Self, great opinion piece in USA Today if you missed it:


And KU awards him a lifetime contract? (of course KU awards him a lifetime contract).

Whatever purity is left in the college game, whatever sliver of collegiate athletes who are motivated by loyalty over $$$, is being (has been?) rapidly eroded by the blue bloods.

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