We will now be taking comments from the Duke gallery. The NCAA's six-year investigation into UNC's athletic department will be coming to a head next week, when Carolina is brought before the Committee on Infractions. Six years is quite a long time and gives everyone and their grandmother a chance to offer their thoughts on the matter. To quote The Sopranos' Johnny Sack: "Everyone's gotta have an opinion?!"
Inevitably, 'everyone and their grandmother' includes our beloved neighbors in Durham. For enthusiastic coverage of the ongoing scandal, feel free to reference our friends at Duke Basketball Report. For a more recent take, however, you'd do well to take a look at the words of Jay Bilas and John Feinstein, two well-known and (negligible Blue Devil background notwithstanding) well-respected alums of That School 8 Miles Up the Road. Both recently weighed in on the upcoming hearings and their arguments are...rather different.
Bilas: "The NCAA Has No Case"
It's highly doubtful that Jay Bilas has much love for University of North Carolina. He was a four-year letterman for Mike Krzyzewski. He was an assistant coach under him. He was a part of some of the greatest UNC-Duke battles. Sam Perkins got in his face one time. In fact, I'm gonna go ahead and say that Jay Bilas doesn't care much for that Carolina bunch. There is, however, one bunch he cares even less for: The NCAA.
Throughout his time as an ESPN analyst, Jay Bilas has been the sworn enemy of the NCAA. Whether it's regarding player compensation, tournament selection, or rules enforcement, Bilas has been their most vocal critic. The case of UNC has been no different. Last week, on the David Glenn Show, Bilas reiterated his position that the NCAA has no case against the North Carolina athletic program.
Bilas makes the same point that we at Tar Heel Blog did two weeks ago, that the AFAM classes in question "were specifically available to everybody," thus undermining the NCAA's argument of improper benefits. He also calls attention to the fact that the NCAA is "not alleging any kind of academic fraud," which was a question earlier in the case. Furthermore, he dismisses the NCAA's argument about the Athletic Department "leveraging" student-athletes into certain classes. Bilas correctly points out that this "happens everywhere," a sentiment echoed by UNC AD Bubba Cunningham.
Bilas’ argument is not that UNC did not commit any wrongdoing. He acknowledges that the situation was "wrong, absolutely wrong," but he firmly states that "the NCAA doesn't have any jurisdiction over it." The NCAA may feel the need to put its foot down because of the outrage over the classes, but as Bilas points out "A rules-based organization doesn't get to break it's own rules because it doesn't like something."
The most important thing to remember here: In addition to being an analyst and former player, Jay Bilas is also a lawyer. He approaches this case from a law background and the NCAA's case, like so many of its past dealings, does not hold up to legal scrutiny. The NCAA has no oversight and is answerable to no one, therefore its rulings and enforcements are inconsistent and often overzealous. The Jay Bilas' of the world serve as whistleblowers against that.
To quote Mike Shinoda in the Numb/Encore remix: "Get 'em Jay!"
John Feinstein: "NCAA Must Hammer UNC"
This hurts me. John Feinstein wrote one of my favorite childhood books. If you haven't read The Last Shot: Mystery at the Final Four you are missing out (will Minnesota State's Chip Graber throw the National Championship game against Duke?!). Feinstein also wrote Season on the Brink, arguably the greatest college basketball book ever written. Feinstein's my guy (again, heinous Duke degree excepted). That's why his illogical call for harsh punishments against UNC wounded and confused me so deeply.
In a piece last week, Feinstein laid out the case for the NCAA "hammering" UNC over the academic scandal. The piece starts out as one would expect: A recap of the investigation, some outrage about the crime against academic integrity, and then this: "Of course that had no affect on the football or – more importantly – basketball teams."
There it is. Again. Basketball is somehow more important. This is the where the axe in need of grinding always gets revealed. Basketball is ABSOLUTELY NOT more important in this case. The students were not overwhelmingly basketball players (certainly not when compared to football) and there is nothing that indicates greater implications for the basketball program. But everyone in favor of harsh punishments always points to the basketball team. Why? Because the basketball team wins. Because the basketball team is historically great. And because historical greatness breeds animosity and, maybe, just maybe, jealousy.
Feinstein follows this up with quite the statement: "If you ask people in college athletics, the Carolina scandal goes well beyond bringing hookers into a dormitory or even paying off athletes." Whoa. John. You are definitely hanging around the wrong kind of "college athletics people," man. Easy classes are worse than hookers? Who said that, Hugh Freeze? Easy classes are worse than paying off athletes? To quote Ron Weasley, "You need to sort out your priorities."
Feinstein’s primary argument is that college athletes are student-athletes and as long as they are claimed to be such by their university "then academic fraud is absolutely within the umbrella of NCAA discipline." Um, John? Did you read the NCAA's statement? Did you read the first section at least? Cause in the first section NCAA made it clear that they were not alleging academic fraud and, more importantly, they left such matters to "the sound discretion of individual schools and their accrediting agencies."
Gimli Voice: "Well this is a thing unheard of!" Someone who thinks the NCAA should have more power than the NCAA thinks it should? Angels and ministers of grace defend us...
Feinstein would like everyone to know that he's not out to get Carolina. In fact, he says "Roy Williams, who is a friend of mine...insists 'We did nothing wrong.'" (Awww. Friendship.) But he is adamant that "Carolina's punishment must be harsh for the NCAA to retain what little credibility it has left." Hmmm. I was rather under the impression the NCAA was losing credibility because it frequently overstepped its bounds and issued punishments that later were scaled back. So I'm not sure overstepping its bounds again would win back or retain that credibility. Needless to say, Mr. Feinstein and I have some healing to do. (Kidding. We haven't met.)
The possibility of the NCAA hammering UNC is still there of course, but the actual justification for it is nonexistent. The only reason it would be done is to make an example of Carolina and reassert the NCAA's authority. That is what Feinstein calls for, and that is what Bilas is dead set against. It's a writer's opinion against a lawyer's opinion. Speaking as a writer, when it comes to the application of rules enforcement, I'm taking the lawyer.