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UNC, Roy Williams Respond To CNN Report

Grant Halverson

T.H. briefly discussed CNN's recent report on UNC and college athletics in general here. That story was one of many to bubble to the surface during the past week creating a new round of attention to the AFAM academic scandal and its potential connection to Tar Heel student-athletes. In response to the CNN report, UNC issued the following statement last night

A Jan. 7 CNN story quoted a source who claimed that a former UNC basketball player was unable to read or write. We do not believe that claim and find it patently unfair to the many student-athletes who have worked hard in the classroom and on the court and represented our University with distinction. Our students have earned their place at Carolina and we respect what they bring to the University both academically and athletically.

University officials can't comment on the other statistical claims mentioned in the story because they have not seen that data. University officials have asked for that data, but those requests have not been met.

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions looks closely at standardized test scores and grade point averages among many factors in determining whether an applicant is admitted to the University. That office has the final decision-making authority for all candidates for admission.

The Undergraduate Admissions Advisory Committee, a standing faculty committee appointed by the chancellor, provides guidance and advice to the admissions office.  A subcommittee of this faculty committee established guidelines and procedures for the admission of student-athletes and other students with special talent.

The University has been and continues to be committed to offering admission to students who can succeed academically and earn their degree.

Last August, the University convened the Student-Athlete Academic Initiative Working Group, led by Provost James Dean Jr. and Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham to develop a best in class national model of practices that will ensure that we meet those goals.

UNC doesn't really mince words and is basically asserting that Mary Willingham's claims are dubious at best and at worst an outright lie. Since Willingham didn't specify when her interaction with a men's basketball player occurred nor is she really able to divulge the name, UNC's statements sets up a our word versus her's situation. In terms of public perception, that might not be a fight UNC wins very easily but the administration does get credit for bring forth a strong response.

Also of note here is UNC saying it asked for Willingham's data on athlete reading levels but it hasn't been provided. After months and months of being beaten over the head with that mantra by the media, I am sure the PR folks at UNC took a little satisfaction in being able to spring that on someone else.[Note: Willingham says UNC has the data because it belongs to them and that she has shared her findings multiple times. Be interesting to see if this yet another case of UNC not getting all the ducks in a row before opening its mouth which has been an issue for a few years now. Apparently PR ineptitude still goes uncorrected despite a turnover in leadership and the retention of expensive PR forms]

Naturally a story this fresh would lead to Roy Williams being asked about it during his postgame press conference following the loss to Miami. Williams said he agreed with the university statement that the claim was untrue and totally unfair. He then added this:

I'm really proud of the kids we've brought in there. I'm really proud of what our student-athletes have done. That's not fair. I've been here ten recruiting classes I guess. We haven't brought in anyone like that. We've had one senior since I've been here that did not gradute. Anybody can make any statement they want to make, that's not fair. The University of North Carolina doesn't do that. The University of North Carolina doesn't stand that. I don't believe its true and I am really, really bothered by the whole thing. People have taken their chances and been beating up on us for quite awhile but we're going to survive this. I am really proud of our kids. Anybody that says anything like that, it's not right.

One important question concerning UNC's troubles is whether the issues raised by Willingham and persistently flogged by the media are ongoing ones or simply past missteps that university leadership has acknowledged and addressed? Williams' response, in concert with school's official one, draws a clear line in the sand that the academic concerns being reported by the media are not a part of how UNC operates presently and in the case of men's basketball have never been a part of how Roy Williams runs his program.

To be certain there are plenty of serious topics regarding the academic life of revenue sport athletes that should be discussed. However there is a major distinction between raising awareness of these issues for the purposes of reform and beating a dead horse with the singular goal of seeing the NCAA take UNC for a walk. The former is about serving the public good and the athletes stuck in a broken system while the latter appears to be mostly serving the bottom line. Hopefully the media will learn the difference.