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Political Writer Gives It a Go

In a hit piece sure to make the rounds of ABCers' inboxes from Manteo to Murphy today, locally syndicated columnist Scott Mooneyham, who writes about North Carolina government and politics for the Capitol Press Association, takes UNC behind the woodshed for the lack of outrage over the current unpleasantness going on in Chapel Hill.

Mooneyham immediately jumps on the hyperbole train, saying:

Just the basic facts paint a sordid picture, a worst-case scenario of college athletics run amok.

Really? You're ready to come to that conclusion already, as if you actually know all the facts, Mr. Mooneyham? This is simply a more polite version of Gregg Doyel's "turd in the punchbowl" comment. At least with Doyel we can assume A) he chose that phrase to incite hate mail, and B) he's a jerk.  Then again, Mooneyham doesn't let facts get in the way of his next line:

A tutor allegedly writes papers for players; the same tutor happens to be in the personal employ of the head football coach months after she is let go by the university for being “too close” to players. An assistant football coach has a close relationship with a sports agent; the agent signs up clients who played for the coach. UNC players introduce players from other schools to runners for sports agents or marketing companies; they fly to out-of-town parties attended by agents. A sports agent runner and alleged cocaine trafficker hangs out at the school's football facilities.

Again, what else is there to know? (emphasis mine)

Mooneyham sure is quick to paint a lot of rumor and innuendo as fact; but as someone who reports for a living, he should know where to put in the distance and scrutiny. As a simple point of fact, no one outside of the UNC-NCAA investigation knows exactly what the tutor did. Again, as a point of fact, John Blake's relationship with Gary Wichard, at whatever depth it was, yielded exactly one client who played for Blake at UNC. And other than Marcell Dareus' "source close to the family", who has suggested any UNC player, much less players (plural) was involved in introducing players from other schools to agents or their ilk?  As for Chris Hawkins, all we know is that the NCAA has deemed him an agent-like creature. The assumption is that he must be a runner since he doesn't meet any definition of an agent, despite the NCAA's classification of him as such. Only the NCAA knows for sure why he is an ALC, and they ain't telling.

Then Mooneyham drops his gold-medal hyperbole:

The basic facts leave little doubt that what's occurred is the worst college sports scandal to hit a UNC system school campus since a basketball point-shaving scandal of the early 1960s.

It's interesting that Mooneyham, who graduated from N.C. State in 1984, would forget his alma mater's own foray into academic and agent-related troubles in the late 1980s.  At that time, NCSU's director of athletic academic support said that tutors regularly did work for basketball players, assistant coaches pressured faculty to change grades and manipulated the withdrawal system, and produced evidence that a player was caught cheating in an English class but was allowed to pass the course. It was also revealed that the chancellor of the university had improperly readmitted players on academic suspension so they could continue to play. Also, a former Wolfpack player was found to have taken over $60,000 from an agent and a booster during this time.

Now I am not trying to play tit-for-tat or equate what happened at State in the late 80s to UNC in 2010, but given that the agent benefits revealed so far don't come close to $60,000 and that the academic infractions seem to involve a single tutor as opposed to the actual active involvement of the chancellor, it is certainly a stretch to call this the "worst college sports scandal" in 50 years. Then again, maybe Mooneyham is only guilty of believing the NCSU mantra that their own unpleasantness was "only about a couple of guys selling some tickets and shoes."

Moving on, Mooneyham spouts a popular retort of the ABCers:

The response from some the school's supporters seems to be that this kind of thing happens everywhere.

Now I can't speak for every Carolina fan, but the only time I have ever heard that line uttered is in shattering the naivete in thinking that this sort of thing could not happen at UNC.  I have never heard that line used as a defense or justification for what has gone on with this whole sordid mess.   Mooneyham continues:

The goings-on within the UNC-Chapel Hill football program have tainted the entire university and 16-campus university system. To believe otherwise is to put you head in the sand, to think the that NCAA has come to town to pat school officials on the head and tell them what a swell job they've done.

But in Chapel Hill, there's no outrage to be seen.

I'm sorry, but does any UNC fan think the NCAA has come to town to pat UNC on the head and say "good job?"  And it's overly dramatic to assert that what has transpired with Carolina football somehow taints, or even has any bearing on anyone else in the UNC system save NCSU and ECU, who also play Division I football. And by "outrage" I assume he means "official" outrage, such as on the part of the chancellor or other authority, or within the university community. There has been plenty of outrage from Carolina alumni, fans, and supporters. But it seems to me that there are just too many unanswered questions to be outraged yet - just a lot of innuendo and loose ends. There are many friends and fans of UNC who are going to wait for the outcome of events to pass judgment or call for heads to roll. It remains the official position of this blog that those people involved must be held accountable, up to and including the head coach and athletic director. But the shoot-them-all-and-let-God-sort-them-out approach does not seem to be the preferred method of dealing with the issues, unless you are Scott Mooneyham:

The school's chancellor, Holden Thorpe, should fire Davis and Baddour. If he won't, he should be fired.

There's no reason to wait. None of the details, playing out day-by-day in the newspapers and on the Internet, are going to mitigate the fact that Davis and Baddour allowed the worst sports scandal in five decades to occur on their watch.

Putting aside the misspelling of the chancellor's name, it is premature to fire both Baddour and Davis in some misguided attempt at heavy-handed justice when the investigation into the program is incomplete. Again, if negligence, malfeasance, or systemic issues are somehow discovered, then Baddour and Davis certainly need to go and I imagine Thorp will pull the trigger rather quickly.  Even if both are cleared on all accounts by the school and the NCAA, both may already be damaged to the point they will not be able to survive, just as Jim Valvano was still forced to resign despite being deemed to have no knowledge of at least the tickets and shoes portion of State's troubles on his watch.

Certainly Mooneyham is entitled to his opinion and there are those UNC fans and ABCers that will agree with every word he has written. But in this case he is guilty of the same lazy reporting, half-truths , rumors, and innuendo as fact, and general jumping to conclusions that has characterized much of the reporting of the entire situation. In the absence of facts, people will naturally fill in the blanks with something else. At this point, all that anyone at UNC has been found guilty of is not paying for certain parts of otherwise permissible trips, hardly worthy of being labeled "the worst sports scandal in five decades". One can assume that will change at some point, but will it live up to this kind of description?

Scott Mooneyham is a fine writer, and does a great job covering the General Assembly.  I have read his columns for years and he is certainly entitled to his opinion. But having a political writer serve forth an opinion on something like this is akin to Caulton Tudor's views on the Richard Burr-Elaine Marshall Senate race. Interesting, maybe, but not really in your wheelhouse. And in this particular case, filled with enough hyperbole to fill a railroad car. This may ultimately turn out to be an fitting column for the end of this entire mess, but not right now.

In the second quote above, Mooneyham asks a pivotal question: "Again, what else is there to know?" The answer, to pull from Paul Harvey, is the rest of the story. Once all the facts are in, then judgment can be passed and outrage directed properly.