Welcome to 2014.
The release of the Wainstein Report regarding the AFAM scandal at UNC provides us an up close look into one of the more annoying aspects of the internet media world in which we live. Gone are the days where well thought out pieces and analysis were the prevailing standard. Those take too long to produce and don't garner nearly enough clicks on your website. News cycles flip over so quickly that in order to hit the peak period of web traffic, opinion pieces must be produced in short order. Sometimes that means truncating your research on a given topic. Sometimes that means relying on a certain local media outlet's narrative laced summary of the information. Whatever the case, the end result is a litany of opinion pieces that plays directly to the middle or lowest common denominator in the audience. It falls into the wheelhouse of those who have plenty of emotion and opinion but a lesser understanding of the complex issues involved in a topic.
Over the past ten days, the hot takes about UNC's scandal have ranged all over the map. Here are some of them.
1. The NCAA can gain redemption by hitting UNC with the Thor's own hammer.
This actually came from Yahoo's Dan Wetzel who is generally a solid writer. His overall point is the NCAA has an "opportunity to reassert a modicum of control, authority and the NCAA’s moral core."
The issue here is Wetzel and other national writers have spent any number of the recent years lamenting the absolute corruption of the NCAA but now, when it suits their own moral outrage, they're willing to hand the organization its credibility back?
Here's a newsflash. Mark Emmert's organization could drop a nuclear bomb on Chapel Hill, take away all the banners, every win and forbid UNC from ever playing another game and the NCAA would still be a feckless cartel adrift in a rancid pool of its own hypocrisy. This kind of logic makes it sounds like if the NCAA hammers UNC it somehow means we can ignore the arcane rules and the fact they continue to deprive athletes of a fair opportunity to partake of the money the NCAA is collecting by billions on their backs.
So yeah, the NCAA can drop a train on UNC but it won't change the rotten moral core of the organization and suggesting otherwise is asinine.
2. The NCAA needs to take UNC behind the woodshed to keep other schools from doing it.
This from Tim Sullivan and the Courier-Journal who says UNC must be hit so hard "the ground shakes."
Otherwise, we invite anarchy. Otherwise, the rewards of large-scale integrity lapses will far outweigh the risks. If NCAA president Mark Emmert is unwilling to make an example of UNC, to hit it so hard that the ground shakes, he might as well abandon the conceit that college athletics can be governed.
Sullivan does note that UNC isn't the only one doing this sort of thing however, if he thinks massive sanctions against the Tar Heels will change the way the sausage is made he's pretty naive. Schools(and there are plenty of them) that operate with blatant NCAA violations happening under the table aren't suddenly going to get religion if UNC is ripped a new one.
The problem with Sullivan's point is I am not sure there is a penalty steep enough to give anyone serious pause that won't simultaneously harm all the wrong people. Vacating wins and taking banners down is a popular suggestion but how much meaning does that actually have other than changing the Dean Dome rafters or littering the media guide with asterisks? The rule breakers of today won't be deterred by the prospect of vacated wins a decade from now. Postseason bans at this point only hurt the wrong people. None of the current athletes at UNC were a part of the scandal and UNC has cleaned house of almost everyone involved. Even a steep fine, at this point, would still be weighed by ongoing offenders as merely the cost of doing business.
History also shows that stiff penalties on others do not necessarily deter. SMU football getting the death penalty in the 1980s didn't stop Miami football from running amok in the 1990s. Miami's penalties didn't stop USC's Reggie Bush from taking improper benefits or agents throwing money around at UNC. The reason why is NCAA violations are rarely originate from the top. The institution doesn't make a conscious decision to violate rules. Those who violate rules are generally outside the school or a handful bad actors inside the school. In most cases those people aren't heavily impacted by sanctions meaning it has little force to deter. UNC's penalties, whatever they are, are not going to give the next Debby Crowder or SEC bagman pause before breaking the rules.
The NCAA will penalize UNC but thinking that discipline is going to stop other schools from cutting corners to win games is incredibly short-sighted. The reality of college athletics is this: To win games and be able to swim in the Scrooge McDuck vault it means bringing in some athletes who can't do college work. They must be kept eligible so what happened at UNC is the logical conclusion of that model. It is also the logical conclusion that will continue to play out at other schools regardless of what draconian penalties are handed out in Chapel Hill.
3. Fire Roy Williams.
This opinion piece appeared in the News and Observer and was written by Lewis Beale who "attended school out of state and has no rooting interest in any local college sports programs."
Beale argues that Roy Williams simply needs to go and hinges that argument not on anything in the Wainstein Report but his belief that Williams isn't credible. And what is the crux of his argument? Mary Willingham.
I’m opting for (b) here because I think Williams lacks credibility and has spent the last couple of years attempting to cover up any involvement he might have had. The tipping point for me came back in January, when whistleblower Mary Willingham – who has been totally vindicated by the Wainstein report and is owed a huge apology by UNC, which has treated her like pond scum – offered to show Williams proof that one of his former players could not read or write. Williams refused to meet with her, saying that it was "not my place" to do so and that he didn’t believe what Willingham was claiming was true. "I don’t believe it’s true, and I’m really, really bothered by the whole thing," Williams said at the time
Let's put all the cards on the table. Mary Willingham has been proven to be at best incompetent and at worst a liar. The Wainstein Report did nothing to validate her inane ramblings nor did it justify her unethical behavior in how she handled confidential information. The report included nothing that validated her long discredited research findings. At no point was she even held out by Kenneth Wainstein as a provider of relevant or vital information. Willingham is now what she has always been, a sideshow and a distraction.
The other problem is Beale's doubts about Williams' credibility flies in the face of Wainstein's own assertions that he found the Tar Heel coach credible. It is fairly amazing to watch people extrapolating conclusions from the report to fit their own narrative even if it means discounting the author of the report himself. The report simply doesn't place enough culpability on Williams to earn him a pink slip. In fact, this is yet another case where Williams is everyone's target while ignoring Sylvia Hatchell and women's basketball's even deeper ties to the Debby Crowder all because Williams is the more well known public figure.
And if that wasn't enough, Beale makes a bid for the Hot Take Hall of Fame by drawing a comparison to the Sandusky scandal at Penn State. Beale surmises that Williams not following up about AFAM is the same as Joe Paterno not following up about being told Jerry Sandusky was committing sexual assault in the Penn State locker room. And no, Mr. Beale, saying you aren't comparing UNC issues to sexual assault doesn't give you a pass. If the Wainstein Report had said Roy Williams was told about the classes, was told they were set up improperly and a non-faculty employee was doing the grading, he talked to Dick Baddour then didn't follow up you might have a point but barely. Using Penn State here is a poorly chosen analogy that is quickly becoming the sports debate's version of Godwin's Law.
4. UNC should lose accreditation
This gem is from the Chronicle of Higher Education and Macalester College president Brian Rosenberg. UNC's scandal is apparently so bad that they should have their accreditation pulled which would essentially shut the school down. That's actually not the real treat. Feel free to scroll down on that article and see the comments(if you dare.) The comments are proof positive that hot takes are written because there is a large group of people who will readily agree with them regardless of what they propose.
This is so incredibly idiotic I am not even going to address it but Doc covers the salient points here.
It also should be noted that Mr. Rosenberg is being intellectually dishonest. The Southern Association of College and Schools which handles UNC's accreditation doesn't operate in this manner. While SACS might take some sort of action, pulling accreditation isn't anywhere close to being on the table.
5. UNC should voluntarily take down banners to show they take the report seriously.
This has been tossed around a bit and even makes an appearance at the end of this piece from SB Nation's Mike Rutherford. People really love telling others how to "do the right thing" especially when it fits their narrative. With due respect to those folks, how does UNC taking a banner down actually accomplish anything more substantive than the following?
-Previous chancellor resigned
-Previous AD retired
-Football coach fired
-Removal of the AFAM department head complicit in the scheme
-New Chancellor hired who ordered the Wainstein Report at the cost of millions of dollars to the school.
-New AD hired who then completely reorganized the compliance department and hired new people to run it.
-Multiple reforms enacted to address the relevant issues raised in the report prior to the report coming out.
-Full release of the Wainstein Report which details the full extent of the scandal.
-Disciplinary action against nine employees including Jan Boxill, AFAM faculty and multiple academic support counselor one of which was working at a different UNC system campus but was still terminated.
-Second NCAA investigation in four years.
In light of this laundry list of actions taken by the school and the general removal of people involved, I am not sure taking a banner down voluntarily does anything but placate a group of people who don't really care about actual reform. Removing banners and vacating wins are hollow gestures. The only people who want that to happen have other skin in the game whether they be rivals looking to heap more misery on UNC or media members looking to satisfy their selective moral outrage.
The reason these hot takes are all highly annoying is they don't actually include real reform. All of these are about getting a "pound of flesh" to fulfill some elusive and often times fluid standard of justice. The problem with hot takes is they are all emotion and provocation while painfully short on real answers. Everyone wants something to happen, it needs to happen now and it needs to be big. That is the general summary of all the pieces above. No one cares what the repercussions are or if it's fair or addresses the issue at hand. The mob demands justice and anything less than whatever passion-fueled punishment they have decided on won't be tolerated.
Here's the deal. UNC is going to be punished. None of what is written above is intended to say UNC shouldn't be penalized heavily. The report details a scheme which strikes at the heart of the school's mission. Wainstein's findings laid out clear NCAA violations which enforcement will address. There are plenty of other questions that have arisen based on what the report has shown. No one knows all the answers to those questions or how the NCAA will approach the penalties given the length of time involved. The path UNC must navigate as it moves forward out of this scandal is a complicated one. This is a time serious people who have an investment in UNC to address the issues not gang of self-appointed judges, jurors and executioners.
UNC is going to be punished. It will probably be harsh and potentially crippling to one or more programs. It will be based on the rules UNC has broken not the NCAA claiming credibility or making an example of someone or to stop other schools from continuing to do it. Whatever it is, it will be either too much or not enough depending on which one of those brings in the most web traffic.