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Martin Center’s Leef Asks What Has Changed Since UNC’s Athletic Scandal

George Leef of the Martin Center looks back at the athletic and academic scandal that rocked UNC-Chapel Hill.

A decade ago, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was engulfed in a sports scandal that made national headlines, brought down a chancellor who seemed destined for a lustrous career, and caused the school huge expenses in litigation and for public relations experts. For the Carolina faithful, those events are now just a bitter but much faded memory. The university has made the needed changes to avoid any repetition so everything is all right.

At least, that is the conventional wisdom. One UNC graduate who has his doubts, however, is Andy Thomason, author of a new book, Discredited: The UNC Scandal and College Athletics’ Amateur Ideal. Thomason was a UNC student during the scandal, serving as editor of the Daily Tar Heel. After graduating from UNC, he took a job with the Chronicle of Higher Education where he is Assistant Managing Editor.

Thomason retains his devotion to his alma mater, but is troubled by the “everything’s okay now” perception. He doesn’t know how right he is.

The key to understanding Thomason’s thinking about UNC’s scandal, and indeed the whole of America’s craze for big-time college sports, is the utter absurdity of the “amateur ideal.” The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has long insisted that sports are clean and wholesome because the participants are “student-athletes.” That is, they are first and foremost students pursuing their education, and only secondarily are they players of football, basketball, hockey, or whatever sport.

Thomason shreds that myth. …

… Thomason recounts the details of the scandal in detail. Especially memorable was the involvement of Mary Willingham, a tutor hired by the university to tutor players who were struggling with their courses. She was sympathetic to them and was dismayed to find that many had pitiably low reading ability. That shocked her, since UNC supposedly had high admission standards, including for its athletes.

Not only did those students have difficulty reading, but when it came to written work, they had obviously plagiarized their papers.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...