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After UNC's exoneration, I’m done feeling ashamed

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Explaining why alumni and fans alike are celebrating the NCAA decision.

Rameses UNC Mascot

May 27, 2010. Over seven years.

That's how long it's taken since that first tweet from Marvin Austin for the NCAA to be done investigating UNC. Seven years. Think about what you were doing seven years ago.

For Tar Heels football, optimism was high. The team was going to enter the fall having a highly anticipated game against LSU, thoughts being that this could be the year it all came together for Butch Davis. The basketball team was about to welcome a couple of freshmen named Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes to the squad.

My mother was still alive, passing about a week after this date. The entire time my Mom has been off this Earth, Carolina has been dealing with the ramifications from that tweet.

The tweet brought scrutiny, which brought investigations, which brought sanctions, which brought more scrutiny, which brought the discovery of the AFAM paper classes. Alumni and fans discovered that they had been sold a lie, in that a good number of students, including athletes, had not gotten the education they were promised.

The whole setup was brought about by an administrator in the AFAM department, who was left unchecked to create a system where thousands of students received high grades for very little work. It's not the education we paid for or had been told they were getting, and it brought a great amount of embarrassment to the University and alumni alike.

But here's the thing: I'm not ashamed anymore.

Somewhere along the way, this turned into a witch hunt that helped serve a lot of agendas beyond wanting to actually clean up the mess that this turned into.

Rival fanbases turned themselves into internet super sleuths, patting themselves on the back when they would find information that would help continue to deflate an athletic department that they wanted to see burn. Local media used the scandal to try to prop up a sagging model, and one reporter in particular was able to raise his profile on the back of a faulty premise.

National media saw this as an opportunity to continue to tear down an organization that they see as evil in the NCAA, and they were all too happy to use UNC as their proxy. A little-known professor of languages and an academic specialist used the situation to become media darlings, even writing a book. All of them, pointing at alumni and fans and yelling "FOR SHAME!"

The sad fact is that they were all so focused on their agendas and what they saw was the "right" thing to do, that they missed all that happened in between. Think Carolina went unpunished? A chancellor was forced to leave, as was an athletic director, a coaching staff, academic councilors, and members of that AFAM department.

The school had to completely restructure that department, and faced the very real possibility that their accreditation to actually be a university would be pulled away. It involved a year of probation, and folks from SACS sitting in on classes to make sure they were legit.

The actual teams in the athletic department weren't left alone, either. The football team dealt with scholarship reductions and a bowl ban from the original tweet before this morphed into something different, and Larry Fedora has had to recruit under this cloud ever since he stepped on campus.

So, too, has Roy Williams. For the last several years, he's recruited at a big handicap as any top-level basketball player would have to consider whether or not theirs would be the one year they had to sit out of the NCAA Tournament.

When you only want to play one year, you just aren't going to take that chance. Rival coaches used this to their advantage, and Roy had to aim for a different type of player. That both Fedora and Williams have put up great seasons year after year in spite of all this says something about their ability to lead these young men.

Lost in this was Coach Sylvia Hatchell. After the Wainstein Report came out, she quickly lost some top-level talent to transfers, and a team that was looking to compete in the top levels of the NCAA quickly bottomed out.

She discovered that a trusted member of the faculty who was a big supporter of the team actually was involved in this mess. She had to endure speculation that her contract wouldn't be renewed, and deal with an even darker shadow than Fedora and Williams, because it seemed they were surely going to get hit hard. She hasn't said a word against UNC during this whole time, and in the end the school stood behind her, advocating for them just as strongly as the other sports.

In the midst of all of this, the NCAA decided to write three separate Notices of Allegations to UNC. When the second one came down, it appeared that they had realized the same thing we had: that their charter doesn't include sanctioning a school for their classes. The schools created the NCAA and made sure that athletics would never tell academics what to do. That meant you couldn't tell a school how hard their classes were...and that you couldn't tell them how easy they were, either. The schools would have to decide that for themselves.

UNC had a right to respond to those charges, knowing that after the response they would go to a hearing, and they did. This was too much for the crusaders, who howled not only at what they saw as a weak notice from the NCAA, but were appalled that they would dare even issue a response against this seeming slap on the wrist.

The NCAA bowed to the PR and decided they needed to issue a third notice, this one with the impermissible benefits, and with the clear intent of trying to put penalties on the school to satiate the thirst for blood.

That was the final straw.

We tried to be apologetic and point to people like Jay Bilas and Bradley Bethel who were rightly explaining the differences in this being an academic and athletic matter. It wasn't enough. We told you that we didn't like what happened, either, but no one should just sit back and take a random punishment, especially one that isn't in the jurisdiction of the body handing it out.

In the end, the mantra was adopted that UNC had to be punished athletically because that's the only way to properly make them feel pain. You wouldn't listen, and turned this into what you wanted, not what was right, so we were done being sorry.

I'm proud of what the University has done to turn it around. They've commissioned report after report to weed out exactly what happened. They've hired a great chancellor who's stood strong and has done an amazing job considering a difficult situation, and they've hired an outstanding athletic director who isn't afraid to kick the cobwebs out of the department and lead it into the future.

I'm proud of my University, not only for what they did to fix the problems, but for not falling on the sword like everyone wanted them to. I'm confident in the leadership at UNC, and happy that they have turned the page, even if you didn't want them to.

In the end, the NCAA came around to the same conclusion we all had been trying to tell you all along: that they don't have the power to punish over classes. Predictably, message boards lit up and hot take commentaries were published, all crying foul at how this went down.

A new pay to read site gets clicks for their college basketball writers, local media gets one more round of biting commentaries that I could have written, and rival fans reveal that it was never about seeing kids get a great education, but that UNC continues to beat their team. The hypocrisy was out in full force, and we enjoyed the vindication for being right all along.

But it's more basic than that. On Friday night, fans and alumni welcomed a new basketball season, and on Saturday they walked into Kenan under brilliant blue skies to watch a football game. For the first time in seven years they did so without worry. Just that weight being lifted, and knowing that our coaches can now really do their jobs without this hanging over them, is worth celebrating as well. We can be excited about the future of all of our teams, and the possibilities for them. We haven't had that in a while, and they have won in spite of it.

So, for those of you telling me I should be ashamed or embarrassed, miss me with that. It’s time for all of us to move on.