Ever since the University of North Carolina managed to escape the lengthy and ultimately pointless investigation by the NCAA, there have been a number of people who have failed to let it go. That’s something that’s not surprising, particularly from Duke and NC State fans who want nothing more than to see the world around UNC burn to the ground. NC State seems to have its own problems right now as it deals with the FBI, but that is perhaps a story for another day.
What we are here for now is an unusual display that has shown up at the University of South Carolina. Former UNC employee and current director of the College Sport Research Institute Richard Southall sent out a tweet Tuesday night, highlighting items that one would not expect to show up on their campus:
Display case with material in the Mary Willingham Papers. Part of CSRI College Sport Collections at University of South Carolina. pic.twitter.com/Czi8gS5fMw— Richard Southall (@CSRISouthall) April 18, 2018
For those that may not know, Mary Willingham is the former athletics literacy counselor that went to the News and Observer with the news that the school’s faculty turned their backs on what she claimed was a ploy to make sure athletes stayed eligible. She even went as far as to say that some athletes didn’t even know what a paragraph is, which if you think about it, is about as much of a reach as you can possibly make with any high school kid, let alone a college student. I digress.
Willingham’s work ultimately led to a $335,000 settlement from UNC, the book that is on display at South Carolina, and, well, that’s about it. The NCAA discovered that there was a large number of students that took the classes in question, making it just about impossible for Willingham’s accusations to be proven accurate. Perhaps she knows something that nobody else does, but we will never know since Willingham told the News and Observer she was willing to be interviewed by the NCAA on their dime, only to have no interview take place at all.
So why is this book on display at the University of South Carolina? The announcement of the College Sports Collections sheds a little bit of light on the issue:
The University of South Carolina announces the College Sport Collections, an archive of documents and memorabilia dedicated to the preservation, celebration and study of college sport history. The Collections was established by the university’s College Sport Research Institute (CSRI) in partnership with University Libraries Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.
“The world of college sport is rapidly evolving, and CSRI is advancing interdisciplinary and inter-university research that tackles the toughest questions facing the industry,” says Richard Southall, CSRI Director and professor in the university’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management. “The College Sport Collections will be an invaluable resource for scholars, students, faculty and professionals from around the world to study the history of college sport and develop informed solutions to advance the industry.”
The article then goes on to talk about the initial donation to the collection from late Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian, who ended up dealing with the NCAA in a case that got taken all the way to the Supreme Court. The NCAA pressured UNLV into suspending Tarkanian over “questionable practices” that took place in 1971, which was before Tarkanian even took over as head coach. The NCAA at the time was able to operate off of hearsay evidence via their bylaws, which is ultimately how they won the case. The legal issues between Tarkanian and the NCAA didn’t end there however, and long story short, the NCAA paid out $2.5 million in 1998 for what he felt was harassment by the organization.
What this ultimately means is that the reason that Willingham’s book ended up in this exhibit is to dissect some of the issues that have taken place in the past with the NCAA in order to figure out how things can be improved going forward. The use of anything from Mary Willingham, however, is an extremely questionable choice. If the claims she made about what faculty members did were at all true, the NCAA should’ve been able to discover something that punished UNC in some fashion. The investigation lasted close to a decade, and the best they came up with was the claim that the university may have pushed athletes to these classes, but they were also utilized by the general student body. The findings have since become a running joke for ABCers, but facts are facts. And the fact here is that, for all of Willingham’s and the NCAA’s efforts, the UNC case ended up not being an NCAA issue.
As the days have passed since the NCAA investigation ended, it has become abundantly clear that there are people out there that refuse to let the issue die. Should we have expected it to? Not at all, as there was too much time, effort, and media attention given to the case for anybody to completely let it go. What is reasonable to expect, however, is for only concrete facts to be used when discussing and/or encapsulating what happened. No, the university is not innocent — what happened on an academic level was embarrassing and the university worked hard to correct the issue. Continuing to make this about athletics, however, sounds like a lot of wishful thinking and hoping that a historic basketball program didn’t legitimately achieve as much as it appeared that they have over the years. It’s inaccurate, it’s shameful, and it’s disrespectful to the students that put in the time and sweat to achieve their goals. Maybe one day we’ll learn, but it doesn’t look like today is the day.