Now that top-seeded North Carolina has arrived in Houston, Roy Williams and his players can expect a cascade of questions from media members focused not on the Final Four, but on the NCAA’s investigation into academic irregularities that occurred in the AFAM department.
In today’s media world of hot takes, facts often fall by the wayside. However, opinions are only valid and should only be published for public consumption when such commentary is based upon a factual understanding of the topic material. That’s not always the case when it comes to the complexity surrounding the UNC case.
In borrowing from CBSSports.com columnist Gary Parrish’s Poll Attacks, a column in which he criticizes individual pollsters for weak ballots, we will address errors in articles addressing the AFAM scandal and provide corrections where needed.
First up is Associated Press Sports columnist Tim Dahlberg, who addressed the Final Four scandal angle in a column on Tuesday.
Dahlberg made the point that coaches never seem to know when things go wrong, and that’s a valid observation. It was then that his take took a detour.
He wrote: "The Carolina coach will tell anyone who will listen that the basketball program is clean, and that most of the problems with the sham classes over a span of 18 years were with football and other athletic programs."
While the first claim is correct, the second half of that sentence is false. Williams has never blamed other programs within the athletic department.
Dahlgren also wrote: “Left unsaid by Williams was that a university investigation showed 167 enrollments by basketball players into the African and Afro-American Studies program at the center of the scandal since he was named coach in 2003.”
Left unsaid by Dahlberg is that Williams inherited a team in which a significant portion of the roster was majoring in AFAM. Not long after Williams grew uncomfortable with the clustering, and according to the Wainstein Report, “after a year or two on the job he asked [Joe] Holladay to make sure that basketball and ASPSA personnel were not steering players to the AFAM Department.”
Kenneth Wainstein would later say that Williams’s actions were inconsistent with what he would expect from a head coach attempting to benefit from the paper class scandal.
Dahlberg also included this detail in his column: “Former player Rashad McCants is on record saying he took a number of the classes in his three years at Chapel Hill, including four during the 2005 national championship season. McCants said tutors wrote his papers for him, and claimed Williams was "100 percent aware of the 'paper class' system," something the coach denies.”
Dahlberg is correct that McCants is on the record with the media – a seemingly inevitable pairing between a young man seeking national headlines and media outlets lapping up the hot take – although the former Tar Heel is not on record with the parties that actually matter.
“There is no evidence to support his allegations,” Wainstein said of McCants in October 2014. “He didn't talk to us. He didn't give us evidence so there is no evidence.”
McCants declined to meet UNC officials to discuss his allegations, and there is nothing in the Notice of Allegations to suggest the NCAA interviewed him.
There is one valid question surrounding the McCants allegations: Why would a former Tar Heel accuse Williams of having knowledge of the paper class scheme if it wasn’t true?
It's worth noting that McCants and his father, James, blame Williams for his failed NBA career. The elder McCants launched into a profanity-laced tirade on Facebook in early 2011 criticizing Williams and his staff for not treating his son fairly when they arrived from Kansas in 2003, calling Williams a “career wrecker.”
Matt Jones, who works for Kentucky Sports Radio, joined the Paul Finebaum Show on ESPN Radio on Tuesday to provide commentary on the UNC academic scandal. During the four-minute interview, Jones said that the paper class scheme lasted for 25 years, that it ran until 2013 or 2014, and that UNC’s entire 2003-04 team majored in AFAM, none of which are true. Wainstein determined the paper classes ran from 1993-2011, and records show that five Tar Heels majored in AFAM in 2003-04.
Jones saved his best commentary for last, taking the opportunity to criticize Williams for playing dumb.
“On his ’09 title team, eight of his 13 players majored in African-American studies,” Jones said. “So in ’05, Roy Williams knows enough to think, ‘This doesn’t feel right, we need to do something,’ and then in ’09, essentially his entire team is back majoring in it. That says to me that they knew and they looked the other way.”
In actuality, senior forward Michael Copeland was the only member of the 2009 national championship team to major in AFAM. Wainstein found that men’s basketball enrollments in the paper classes started to decline in 2007.
And then there’s Yahoo Sports! Columnist Pat Forde, who is best known around the Carolina fan base for this tweet 18 months ago.
Paige, of course, was named Academic All-America yet again this season, becoming only the third player in ACC basketball history to be named to the Academic All-America team three times.
On Monday, Forde took aim at UNC discovering additional potential violations in the days leading up to its response deadline for the Notice of Allegations last August.
Forde wrote: “In mid-August, North Carolina went Four Corners on the NCAA and delayed its endlessly ongoing academic fraud case until after this promising season was complete. Dean Smith would have been proud of the stall ball: The school announced that it found additional violations in women’s basketball and men’s soccer that would delay its response to a Notice of Allegations and thus extend the timetable for the entire case.”
Forde changed course in the following paragraph, writing that “there is no assertion that the discovery of the violations was bogus, or that this was a ruse concocted by the school.”
The contradiction of those connecting paragraphs prompted local radio host Adam Gold of the Adam & Joe show on 99.9 The Fan to ask Forde for clarification earlier this week.
“I don’t know whether it was intentional,” Forde said. “I am not asserting that it is intentional. I don’t know for sure. I would doubt it, but the timing helps them for this season.”
The reason Forde’s confusing take is relevant is because he is the president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, the preeminent sports media organization which has a membership base of roughly 900 members. Serving in that role, Forde was in Chapel Hill last June to announce the USBWA's national award to honor Dean Smith.
Note: We also considered including Brian Smith of the Houston Chronicle in this article. However, upon close examination of his column published on Monday, we found that Smith wrote 845 words criticizing UNC and Syracuse without providing any sort of detail into their specific situations.