Friday, January 3, 2014

Big Money in College Sports Means Bad News for Student Athletes

Last week the University of North Carolina routed the University of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, 39-17. Meanwhile, Tar Heel players should have received t-shirts reading, “I play footbawl for UNC. And all I got was a lousy B+ on a term paper I didn’t write for a class I didn’t attend. Plus this t-shirt!”

Evidence continues to pile up to prove that college sports have been totally corrupted by money. Now an investigation into bogus classes at UNC has led to indictment of a professor at that school. This week Julius Nyang’oro, head of the African and Afro-American studies department, was charged with fraud.

His crime: accepting $12,000 to teach a class that never met.

Not rarely met.

Never once.

It will be bad enough if Nyang’oro turns out to be an enterprising crook. It will be worse by a factor of a hundred if the investigation spreads. And it looks like it will. The course in question was AFAM 280: Blacks in North Carolina. It was scheduled in the summer of 2011. Nineteen students enrolled. Eighteen were UNC football players. The other was a former player.

The problem wasn’t limited to just one course. An investigation revealed that there may have been 200 bogus classes. Some dated back to 1997. Most showed “little or no evidence of any instruction.” At least part of the time AFAM 280 was supposed to be meeting, Nyang’oro was traveling in Africa. When investigators turned over other academic rocks more bugs scampered for cover. Nearly half of all students enrolled in bogus classes were athletes. Evidence seemed to show there were at least 500 cases of unauthorized grade changes. Faculty signatures were routinely forged.

The Raleigh News & Observer explained:
Athletes—particularly those in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball—had a disproportionate presence in the classes, and correspondence from the tutoring program for athletes showed staff members there knew the classes didn’t meet and were not challenging. Among the athletes they helped place in the classes were academically challenged freshmen, records show.

The same paper noted earlier this month:
Nyang’oro, 59, of Durham, has never publicly spoken about the case. He resigned his department chairmanship in August 2011, shortly after UNC began an internal investigation into his classes. That was prompted after the News & Observer reported that a prominent football player…had received a B-plus in an upper-level class in the summer before he began his first full semester as a freshman. Nyang'oro had been listed as the instructor.
UNC’s investigation found that class, too, was among more than 50 African studies classes over the previous five years that showed little evidence of actually meeting. Nine of those classes were disavowed by the instructors listed as teaching them, and the investigation found evidence the handwriting on course documents didn't belong to them.
The evidence so far shows those enrolled were told to write a paper to turn in at the end of the semester, with little evidence it was actually read. But the grades were good to excellent, averaging better than a B-plus.

Who else knew about this scheme? Were coaches complicit? Did school officials look the other way? At least one former colleague insists Nyang’oro is a scapegoat. “But I am sure there were many people in the athletic department and elsewhere who were aware…the problem was institutional.”

Or, should we say: “The problem is financial.”

Big time college sports mean big time bucks. What do you do to ensure star athletes stay eligible? If you must sacrifice, sacrifice learning!

Walter Byers, a former NCAA director, has called this approach a modern “plantation mentality.” Sadly, most athletes enrolled in these courses were African American. (Three fake classes, for example, promised to teach students Swahili.) A select few can hope to go on and play pro sports. The rest are losers in a rigged game, where touchdowns are worth six, foul shots one, and learning zero.

The schools keep winning. The alumni are happy. The donations flow. The athletes get meaningless grades. Four or five years later, if lucky, they're handed a worthless diploma. They don’t learn about blacks in North Carolina. They don't learn about the history of slavery in that state. They don't study Jim Crow laws. They don't hear about the lives of share croppers. They don’t learn Swahili. They might as well have signed up for courses in Pig Latin.

Well, who cares! According to the News & Observer the football staff at UNC is well paid. Head coach Larry Fedora’s pay package was worth $2.13 million in 2012. Both schools in the Belk Bowl earned a minimum of $1.7 million. And let’s not forget the branding of the games themselves. Belk, Inc., a Southern department store chain, paid a hefty fee for naming rights. This year sponsorship of bowl games will bring in almost $100 million.

About $71 million will go to the athletes themselves. No. No. We’re totally kidding! That giant pile of cash will go to ESPN.

Let’s not forget the commercials, either. A thirty-second spot during the Vizio BCS Game will cost $1.15 million.

The money keeps rolling in. This season the Big Ten earns earn $46.7 million by sending seven teams to bowls. Even the games proliferate. There are thirty-five bowls this year. The Atlantic Coast Conference has teams in eleven. Auburn and Florida State, like UNC an ACC member, play for the championship January 6. Both earn payouts of $22 million.

Money talks. No. Money bellows.

At this point, we might as well stick advertisements on player jerseys and slap corporate logos on the sides of all the helmets! At halftime, senior student athletes could gather round a trash barrel at the fifty yard line. There they could burn their valueless diplomas.

As long as no one sets fire to a playbook, it’s unlikely many big time college coaches would actually care. University officials can simply look the other way. Business sponsors and rich boosters can sit back in glassed booths high above the field and talk business. Fans of winning teams can enjoy bragging rights for the next year.

Only the athletes get screwed.

Another UNC football story you might like:  Player plagiarizes report on chickens done by four 11-year-olds.


  1. My daughter's friend was assigned a group project in a University of Cincinnati undergrad class, which included several UC football players. After numerous attempts to contact them to set up meetings to work on the project, she complained to the professor who told her to do it on her own and she would not be penalized. He further explained that they would not be able to participate due to their inability to read. What the...!? How did this become so upside down and backwards!!

  2. Happy to see you writing again Mr. Viall! Don told me of a class he had with some UC players. Always 10 minutes late to class. Left 10 minutes early. Rarely there for quiz or test days. All passed. And in addition to the money wasted on sports, I have red of student centers now having rock climbing walls, indoor heated pools and spas, indoor tracks and full gyms, most of which never get used. Costs are rising not because the product is better, but because of the marketing investments.
    Jay Vinson

  3. In 1982 (Yes, you read that right). as a high school senior, I was ENCOURAGED to take tests, do homework, and write papers for our football team. I didn't. Nothing has changed!!!!

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