Former North Carolina star Rashad McCants has leveled academic fraud charges at his former school and has implicated his one-time coach, Roy Williams, while doing so. It's the worst message for UNC, a school that has already dealt with a devastating NCAA investigation into its football program. It's also delivered by the worst messenger, a player who was as mercurial as he was productive. Sifting through the dreck to get to the truth will be no easy exercise. But sift the NCAA must.
In an ESPN report released Friday morning, McCants said he wouldn't have been eligible to continue playing for the Tar Heels' 2005 national championship team without a safety net of bogus classes to keep him academically afloat. He said he was a straight-As, Dean's List student in the spring semester of 2005 without attending a single class. Asked if Williams knew about the dynamic in which players would take courses that required only one term paper in order to receive a grade, McCants said, "I think he knew 100 percent."
"I thought it was a part of the college experience, just like watching it on a movie from He Got Game or Blue Chips," McCants also said in the report. "When you get to college, you don't go to class, you don't do nothing, you just show up and play. That's exactly how it was."
There's a lot of space between what McCants has alleged and a guillotine dropping on those involved. North Carolina's problem? What he said has been pre-corroborated in some ways, via an investigative series from Raleigh's News & Observer about academic fraud at the university, specifically related to African-American Studies courses used to keep struggling athletes on the field or on the court. As the ESPN story states, UNC's own investigation found 54 such classes that "were either 'aberrant' or 'irregularly taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011." Per ESPN, half of the courses on McCants' final transcript were AFAM courses. McCants may be a loose cannon, but based on the school's own findings, he is not firing far off-target.
Just as potentially damning is McCants' assertion that Williams played a part in directing him into classes that would keep him eligible for the spring 2005 semester after he failed two non-AFAM courses in the fall. That's when McCants said he found himself with four bogus courses the following semester, in which he received As. "With respect to the comments made today, I strongly disagree with what Rashad (McCants) has said," Williams said in a statement released by the school on Friday. "In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me. I have spent 63 years on this earth trying to do things the right way and the picture he portrays is not fair to the University or me.”
The charges against Williams will be difficult to prove conclusively. Despite that, it's now time for the NCAA to send an investigative team to UNC and find out what happened. Otherwise it's willful ignorance, a sham of an enforcement process for a sham of a student-athlete dynamic. The entire system may be ridiculous. Some rules may be laughable. But it's much more difficult to be dismissive or cynical about academic fraud -- universities do exist to educate -- and this is the sort of corruption that poisons the whole idea. If the NCAA won't act on that, why bother acting on anything?
McCants will be demonized and discounted, and, to be sure, he doesn't make for the most unassailable witness. This is a player who coaches and teammates struggled to connect with for years, who once infamously referred to playing at North Carolina as like being in jail and who once said he was better than 95 percent of the players in the NBA -- two years after he washed out of the league after only four seasons, due in part to the friction he caused at his various stops.
In a statement, UNC AD Bubba Cunningham said, "Since becoming Carolina’s director of athletics [in 2011], I have gotten to know some of Mr. McCants’ teammates, and I know that claims about their academic experience have affected them deeply. They are adamant that they had a different experience at UNC-Chapel Hill than has been portrayed by Mr. McCants and others." That's a misdirection or a swerve. This isn't an issue of absolutes; it's not necessarily the case that either everyone cheated or no one did. The punishment (if any) for North Carolina and those involved (if any) will correspond to the degree of malfeasance (if any). Rashad McCants may be a bad messenger, but the message can't be greeted with blind indifference.