PlayBook: Bleeding Out

By Fraser Lockerbie

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UNC and the NCAA are mired in yet another unprecedented scandal of their own making. Is it time to change the rules (again?) or change the game?


They say what you don’t know can’t hurt you, but it’s usually what you don’t know, or rather what you don’t care to know, that does.

Rumors out of North Carolina have their namesake university on the hook for a whole slew of academic violations, the result not of an “exhaustive and thorough” two-year-long probe by the almighty overseers at the NCAA but of a leaky transcript department, an overzealous reporter at the Raleigh News & Observer and some timely deductive, though not altogether conclusive, reasoning.

When Julius Peppers’ alleged transcript hit the airwaves last Sunday, it, if it’s real, confirmed what we all already believed: that UNC’s African and Afro-American Studies department has been running a roughshod and ramshackle ship for years, serving perhaps only to elevate the GPAs of student athletes in jeopardy of losing their eligibility.

Well, fuck, you don’t say! What’s that? A widespread conspiracy is afoot to ensure the athletic poster boys stay afloat long enough for the university to reap and sow all the advertising dollars that come along with their names? And the whole university might be involved!? It might span decades, and there’s no way to know who is complicit, who’s not and how far-reaching it could be!!!?

Yawn.

The problem here is not that Julius Peppers was a flake who didn’t walk away with a first-class education from a school considered by some to be in the new Ivy League. Not really. If Julius Peppers — or any other potential pro, for that matter — finds reason to “major in eligibility,” why shouldn’t he? Peppers has made upwards of $70M in his 12-year career, and that’s had more to do with his 4.68 40 than his 1.82 GPA.

The problem is not even that said university on one level or another and for however long lived in a shadow world, either complying with or orchestrating a systematic series of graded shell games totaling 54 classes and at times populated in name only entirely by student athletes registered at the behest of university-appointed academic advisors.   

No, the problem here is that after a two-year investigation into allegations of academic misconduct, the oversight committee empowered by the NCAA turned up little more than a few flagrant fouls here, a minor misdemeanor there, maybe an eligibility issue in between, but none of them interconnected and certainly no evidence of an unprecedented academic conspiracy of any scale, let alone the largest to ever be uncovered in the history of the organization.

The truth is they found what they wanted to find and then buried the rest, hoping a blind eye might just make it all go away. They dropped a few sanctions, threw out a few fines, all in the name of transparency, but they knew if they dug too deep, turned over too many rocks, what they were going to find: what’s slowly been bleeding out bit by bit into the press today. UNC’s collusion or cover-up or whatever it was not only jeopardizes the future of that program (and the millions in tax-exempt revenue that stems from it), it invites investigation into other high-profile sporting schools, and how does that affect the NCAA’s bottom line, the plus or minus profit numbers at the end of the day?

Well, it doesn’t, really; so long as the stars still play, the advertisers still pay, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not time for a change. It’s time that the NCAA came to terms with the reality of its own situation. It is an organization that continually bends and doubles back on its own rules. It is constantly mired in scandal at the expense of its own absurd and outdated enforcement policies. It makes rules almost as fast as it breaks them. It’s time for them to wake up, to tear down this flimsy fucking circus tent of tenacity they think they’ve created, to stop pretending to be some upstanding organization concerned with the future of any one person or player and just be what they already not-so-secretly are: a professional minor sports league that makes millions, billions, on the backs of its underpaid and underappreciated athletes. 

Catch up on past PlayBooks here. 


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