After a four-year wait which felt like it spanned multiple decades, we finally have the full gauntlet of allegations the NCAA is levying against the University of North Carolina. The allegations were made public by the school on Thursday, and UNC now has until Aug. 20 to file a formal response.
The trend of everyone having to re-learn the major bullet points from this story every time something major happens (once every 5-8 months) will continue through at least the summer of 2015. If anyone is even willing to partake in that endeavor by then.
Thursday's news has officially penned the writing we should have been reading on the wall for the past four years: UNC men's basketball is not going to get hammered by the NCAA. Roy Williams isn't going anywhere, and neither are the Tar Heels' 2005 and 2009 national championship banners. The only major punishment that remains in play is a postseason ban for the potential 2015-16 preseason No. 1 Heels, and that news would elicit some not-so-mild shock at this point.
The NCAA's 59-page NOA (featuring a 732-page list of exhibits) is predictably dense and sheds little light as to what exact punishments may soon be tossed in the direction of Chapel Hill. You're more than welcome to read through it all yourself, but what isn't in the NOA is far more important than anything you'll see during that six-hour(?) adventure.
Even though "academic" and "fraud" have combined to be the headlining two-word phrase of this "scandal," the NCAA declined to investigate the allegation that over a span of 18 years, 3,100 students (47 percent of which were athletes) at UNC took advantage of African-American Studies courses. Those courses, according to the allegations, allowed the students to receive quality grades without having to show up for class, turn in papers or take tests.
The reason? This was a scam that all students benefited from, not just the athletes enrolled in the classes. There was also significant evidence that the students enrolled in these classes at least had to turn in something before being awarded a grade. Regardless of what the content of the turned in paper was, the fact that actual work had to be done makes it extremely difficult to prove academic fraud, and thus, the NCAA chose not to head down that road. So instead of academic fraud, the NCAA has chosen to describe what took place as "impermissible benefits to student-athletes that were not generally available to the student body."
The other major takeaway from the NOA is that there is zero mention of any wrongdoing by any specific athlete or coach from the UNC men's basketball or football programs. The name Roy Williams appears just once in the entire document, and that's only as a mention that he was interviewed by the NCAA.
If the NCAA was going to go after North Carolina wins or titles, it would likely have needed to make accusations that one of the Tar Heel teams over the last 18 years was playing with a specific player or specific players who should have been ineligible. There is none of that in the NOA, and now, 24 hours later, UNC is reportedly close to finalizing a contract extension for Williams. It's hard to see that as a coincidence.
The NCAA's main charge is an extremely broad cry of "lack of institutional control." Without any bombshell accusations or specific players or occurrences laid out, it's difficult to foresee the exact punishments that UNC will be hit with ... but it's far less difficult to foresee what those punishments won't be.
The fact of the matter is that everyone outside of those who dislike North Carolina men's basketball seems to want those to go away as quietly as possible. And everyone else? They really don't care all that much.
But why? Why is one of the largest and most egregious academic scandals in the history of the NCAA not more of a draw? The answer is three-fold.
The Details Aren't Salacious Enough
The one thing the 131 pages of the Wainstein report, which was released last October, 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 was never that.
The closest the Wainstein report got to providing America with the ammo it needed to keep UNC in the national spotlight of infamy was 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.
There Is No Individual At The Heart Of This Scandal
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.
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 s*ht 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 always had too many branches, and they extended from too many different places. This was never 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 was always too much to talk about, and in the end, the result was a Notice of Allegations which appears to be too broad to unleash any headline-worthy penalties.
Everyone directly involved with the UNC scandal has made little attempt to hide the fact that they'd welcome any avenue that would make this whole thing go away as quickly and quietly as possible. The quickly part may have gotten sidetracked, but the quiet end that we all should have seen coming now appears to be inevitable.