Breaking Chapel Hill: Former UNC guard Rashad McCants is bursting the ‘student-athlete’ bubble

Photo: The Needs
Photo: The Needs /

The UNC men’s basketball program is in deep water after allegations surfaced citing academic dishonesty and misconduct—all sanctioned by the athletic department. These allegations have sadly become commonplace in collegiate athletics, but the implications are significant and, at the very least, deserve our attention.

College is full of tiny rings we pull around ourselves. Some gravitate to student government, some to fraternities and sororities; Rashad McCants chose basketball.

Things detached from their stories have no significance. They are just shapes.

The next semester he made honor roll despite never attending classes.

In the fall of 2004, McCants failed half his classes at the University of North Carolina. He miraculously remained academically eligible. The next semester he made honor roll despite never attending classes and having his final papers written for him by tutors.

More from Mens Basketball

Just as these stories begin to feel less conventional, less ordinary, we’re slapped in the face with new installments. Each occurrence breaks the silence like a storm in a belljar, and each time the lion’s share of them manage to flee beneath our peripheral after a few days.

We forget about them and they pass like apparitions, that, or we just become complacent with blinds hovering above our eyes.

This reminder—the first challenging the UNC men’s basketball program—comes on the backend of an already turbulent summer for the NCAA. In late April, the Northwestern University football program made the initial plunge into the pay-for-play unionized waters teams have been wading in for years.

The most recent claims, brought to life by McCants and whistleblower Mary Willingham, paint a dumbfounding portrait. An ESPN Outside the Lines report chronicles how Tar Heel players were seldom in class, had final papers written for them in paper-classes (where the paper is the only grade), and that coach Roy Williams and the athletic department knew about the whole operation.

Williams, rigid as a piece of taxidermy, attempted to put out the conflagration licking at his ankles by ladling out tersely vague and unenthusiastic rebuttals:

With respect to the comments made today, I strongly disagree with what Rashad McCants has said. In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says.”

60 percent reading at fourth-to-eighth-grade reading levels.

Let’s set the table: Rashad McCants was the No. 2 leading scorer on the UNC championship team in 2005. If there were marquee players for that squad, he would’ve been the first name mentioned. He left for the NBA at the end of the year and was drafted No. 14 by Minnesota—and now plays internationally. Willingham is a former reading specialist at the university who resigned after blowing the whistle. Her findings assert that there were athletes unable to write paragraphs, some had never read a novel. In a January CNN article, Willingham says that her research of 183 football and basketball players from 2004-12 found “60 percent reading at fourth-to-eighth-grade reading levels” and “roughly 10 percent below a third-grade level.”

University officials deemed her findings inaccurate. She still stands by them.

Reports detail how McCants would’ve been academically ineligible had he not received the assistance. Yet he miraculously made the Dean’s List in Spring 2005, an academic honor, despite not attending any of his four classes for which he received no less than straight-A grades.

"“I thought it was a part of the college experience, just like watching it on a movie from ‘He Got Game’ or ‘Blue Chips,’” McCants said. “…when you get to college, you don’t go to class, you don’t do nothing, you just show up and play. That’s exactly how it was, you know, and I think that was the tradition of college basketball, or college, period, any sport. You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that.”"

This wouldn’t be the first instance of NCAA sanctions in Chapel Hill. The football program received ramifications for improper benefits and academic misconduct by tutors in 2010.

McCants’ abysmal transcript outside of the Afro-American Studies courses he excelled in further strengthens the claims: Six Cs, one D and three Fs. An internal investigative report in 2012, five years after the school dismissed any notion of misconduct, found evidence stemming from 54 classes that ranged from no-show professors to unauthorized grade changes for students.

Photo: The New Orleans Advocate
Photo: The New Orleans Advocate /

The NCAA has yet to consider attention on no-show classes, most likely because they’re horrified of what the results might be. They’re sinking beneath their own weight in the financial argument against athletes. This case might as well be an anchor.

"College sports is a $16 billion-a-year business."

As Bloomberg Businessweek mentioned in late February, “college sports is a $16 billion-a-year business” often based on phony promises that athletes are obtaining a legitimate education.

Do we still believe the terms athlete and student are indissolubly linked?

These narratives have been written and rewritten numerous times since the NCAA was established. From improper benefits to bogus classes to pay-for-attendance accusations, they each wear an altered mask. Most are siphoned from colleges and universities baying at athletes to generate income. All deserve, at the very least, our attention.

“You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”