The fine details and the nation's immediate reaction are now known. The athletic and academic scandal at the University of North Carolina is one of the largest and most egregious events of its kind in the history of college athletics. The sports world is fully aware of this, and has decided it would rather talk about whether multiple SEC teams really deserve to be included in the new college football playoff.
Over a span of 18 years, 3,100 students (47 percent of which were athletes) at UNC took advantage of Afro-American Studies courses which allowed them to receive quality grades without having to show up for class, turn in papers or take tests. It's one of the most wide-ranging academic scandals of all-time, and a prestigious university and celebrated basketball program are at the heart of it. All this comes at a time when respect for the NCAA and faith in the principles it claims to uphold are at an all-time low. If ever there was a story that deserved full-circle treatment for at least a week after breaking, this would seem to be it.
North Carolina Scandal
How the UNC scandal hurts the NCAA's future
It's getting harder for the NCAA to argue that athletes are students first, thanks to scandals like this one.
North Carolina Scandal
Since the release of the 131-page Wainstein report last Wednesday, the academic scandal has been covered in some capacity by every network in America. CNN provided arguably the most extensive coverage, Yahoo had both Dan Wetzel and Pat Forde pen highly critical columns, and the scandal even provided a punchline for a "Weekend Update" joke on Saturday Night Live.
Still, the number of features posted on the scandal pales when compared to the profusion of coverage that Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston's individual escapades have produced in recent months. There has been no extensive national debate on what punishment is appropriate for UNC basketball, no constant sidebar box dedicated solely to Tar Heel updates during SportsCenter. And now, just five days after the one of the ugliest dustings in recent memory finally settled, people seem fully ready to move on.
The practice of grilling the NCAA by highlighting its shortcomings has never been cooler, so why, outside of a handful of rival fans, does everyone seem so willing to toss the conversation surrounding this scandal into the trunk of the Hot Sports Takes Mobile?
The Details Aren's Salacious Enough
The one thing the 131 pages of the Wainstein report didn't supply the sports public with was a hook. There wasn't one story that could be turned into an appropriately clever College GameDay sign or enough juicy tidbits to produce a "10 Most Shocking Things About the UNC Scandal" BuzzFeed post that could make its rounds on social media.
People want single stories that can become Internet memes, they want scandals that can be wholly mocked in 140 characters or less. This isn't that.
The closest the Wainstein report gets to providing America with the ammo it needs to keep UNC in the national spotlight of infamy is an email sent by a member of the North Carolina academic support staff to a director of football operations. The email is letting the football employee know that Deborah Crowder, the UNC employee at the center of the "paper class" scandal, had just announced her retirement.
"Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July . . . if the guys papers are not in . . . I would expect D's or C's at best. Most need better than that . . . ALL WORK FROM THE AFAM DEPT. MUST BE DONE AND TURNED IN ON THE LAST DAY OF CLASS."
The 46-word email is a about as juicy as the UNC scandal gets, and serves as an adequate summary of the entire Wainstein report, but it's still not sensational enough to turn a drab topic -- big-time athletes in big-time programs may not fully deserve the grades they get to stay eligible, who knew? -- into something the public wants to talk about for more than a day.
Which leads us to...
People Already Assume This Happens Everywhere
The shock that goes hand-in-hand with the UNC story is attached to the length of time and the number of people affected, not the fact that star athletes were being given grades they didn't earn. These types of stories are nothing new, especially when it comes to college basketball.
In the past two decades, Florida State, Minnesota, Georgia and Purdue have all seen their hoops programs hit with significant penalties after findings of academic misconduct. You might be aware that the Golden Gopher program has never fully recovered or you might have taken the Jim Harrick Jr. final exam when it made its rounds online, but you probably don't remember the explicit details of any of those cases.
The "everybody does it" sentiment is so widely held when it comes to academic fraud and big-time college athletics that it's almost impossible for any individual instance to shock or even register with the national public anymore. It doesn't matter that UNC athletes received a collective GPA of 3.61 in their "paper" classes and a 1.91 in their "real" ones; this isn't the type of cheating that grabs attention these days. Show us some money changing hands or a star player getting caught stealing something funny from an easily mockable location. Give us something we can turn into a joke that will make our co-workers laugh.
There Is No Individual At The Heart Of This Scandal
It's much easier for scandals to become national conversations when they have a clear jumping off point. Johnny Manziel is out there doing crazy shit that we don't agree with? Cool, let's talk about how he got here and whose fault it is. Texas A&M, his upbringing, the culture and policy of the NCAA; it's all on the table.
The scandal at North Carolina has too many branches, and they extend from too many different places. This isn't solely about Roy Williams or Butch Davis or Mark Emmert or Rashad McCants (God, it would be so much easier and fun if it was), and that makes things complicated. There's a lot to talk about here, and in the new world of information overload, improprieties this convoluted tend to have shelf-lives unreflective of their respective significance.
After a week of observing the national reaction, it's pretty clear that the only way this scandal receives an appropriately significant conclusion is if North Carolina or the NCAA takes matters into its own hands. Seeing how eager all those close to the investigation of the scandal have seemed for the day that it all "goes away" should leave us with little faith that this will happen.
Ten of the 15 players on the 2004-05 North Carolina men's basketball team majored in AFAM. Logic leads us to believe that several of those players would not have been eligible without the assistance of the dishonest academic system that was in place at UNC during that year. In the past week we've heard North Carolina employees, graduates and current students discuss their fear of this situation devaluing the significance attached to a UNC degree. There's unlikely to be any national backlash when the NCAA hits Carolina with an insignificant probation sanction, but if the folks in Chapel Hill are serious about alleviating that fear, the best place to start is by taking down the banner those players won a decade ago.