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Victory for the University of North Carolina? Hardly
The irony is pretty rich: A top NCAA official said Friday during a conference call with the media about an outrageous college sports scandal that the organization should hire Dan Kane, a reporter for the Raleigh News & Observer, as an investigator.
Kane is among a cadre at the daily that for years has covered, and in many instances revealed, outright academic fraud by the University of North Carolina. The fraud assured the eligibility of athletes, primarily in its football and fabled basketball programs. There were other media who did good work, including The New York Times, but nobody like the Raleigh daily, and nobody quite like Kane.
Now comes the resolution of the case, as Kane himself wrote while on vacation in California: “UNC-Chapel Hill escaped NCAA sanctions, in what was one of the longest-running academic scandals in college sports history, in large part by refusing to identify as fraudulent 16 years of classes that had no instruction and were graded by a secretary.”
“The NCAA Committee on Infraction’s 24-page decision on Friday set off jubilation among UNC fans on a day that concluded with the men’s basketball team raising its 2017 NCAA championship banner. But some outside of the university said the decision showed the NCAA is failing in its stated mission of supporting the educational opportunities for athletes.” That is an understatement.
As The New York Times put it: “The NCAA did not dispute that the University of North Carolina was guilty of running one of the worst academic fraud schemes in college sports history, involving fake classes that enabled dozens of athletes to gain and maintain their eligibility.” But it concluded there’d be no penalties since no rules were broken, that it couldn’t punish the university because the totally phony classes (they didn’t really exist) were not just available to athletes but to other students, as well (more than 3,100 students took at least one of the phony classes, with jocks comprising half the beneficiaries). So, technically, no NCAA rules were broken (this really is also the triumph of lawyering over justice).
Luke DeCock, a columnist for the paper, detailed the whole mess for me yesterday and, as we were finishing, said, “Let me add one thing. The crux of this has always been that the NCAA is run for the university presidents and the last thing they want is for the NCAA to poke around in ‘our curriculum.’ They don’t want the NCAA messing around in their turf.”
“The NCAA exists because these guys don’t trust one another to run clean programs. This showed the soft spot between why university presidents created the NCAA and the fact they don’t want it poking around on their turf, academia.”
So much for classes that didn’t really exist, which didn’t meet, as Kane detailed for me. They were created and graded by a secretary. An analogy he just came up with is to watching a point guard bring up a ball on a court with other players around him, but then seeing that there are no baskets on the court, or anybody in the stands.
But the university’s defense was to both concede the specifics and maintain these weren’t fraudulent classes. They were part of the regular curriculum, it claimed, meaning the NCAA didn’t really have jurisdiction. Thus, quite apart from having any cleansing effect, says Kane, this could be a blueprint for future cheating, especially when one takes into account the university history of stonewalling as facts dribbled out (Kane says it’s now even installing software so it will know, for example, if any suspicious professor wants to check the transcript of a “student-athlete”). Just say dubious, non-convening classes for jocks are part of the curriculum.
When I caught up with John Drescher, the editor of the paper, he justifiably voiced pride in its years of work. “The work has stood up to scrutiny. There were other investigations but clearly our reporting was an important factor in getting to the bottom of what went wrong.” He could have mentioned how it endured venomous assault from UNC sports diehards.
And then there’s Jack Stripling, a senior reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education, whom I asked about the claims of general ignorance of all this by the university athletic department and its coaches, notably legendary basketball coach Roy Williams (the Tar Heels are the NCAA men’s champs):
“You’ve hit on the big question: Can it be true that a widespread case of academic fraud, perpetuated over 18 years and disproportionately benefitting the two highest profile sports — football and basketball — was both systemic and yet only narrowly and vaguely understood by a handful of low-level actors? Even if we take UNC at its word that that was the case, we’re invariably left with unsettling answers about why that might be true.”
“The sad truth of the NCAA’s action is that it proves, as my colleague Eric Kelderman wrote, that there is no outside agency equipped to settle these questions.” The key report, done for the university by an independent former federal prosecutor, “damning and revelatory as it was, is the best available option — an independent investigator, paid by the university with broad access to documents but no subpoena power and no ability to question people under oath. In that scenario, what incentive does an executive have to say ‘I didn’t know because I didn’t want to know,’ when ‘I didn’t know’ would suffice?”
“This is not to cast aspersions on the good men and women at the top at UNC. Many are respected academics with, beyond this, impeccable track records. But a person can’t look at this objectively and fail to ask: If you didn’t see it, why not? Wasn’t it your job to see it?”
Bottom line: Yes, it was fine that what Kane considers a sincere compliment about his work was delivered in the Friday call by Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference who served as chief hearing officer for the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions (it’s not quite like Robert Mueller investigating Donald Trump). Well, for sure the NCAA could pay a whole lot more to Kane, who’s coming off a terrific five-part series on jail deaths, than his editor Drescher can.
But Sankey would also have to infuse the organization with some spine, which is unlikely since the whole saga reminds you how the real outrages are often those acts deemed perfectly legal.
Death in Somalia, yawns in U.S.
Saturday’s very deadly attack in Mogadishu, Somalia, resulted in more than 300 deaths. Al Jazeera has a wealth of coverage, including local and international reactions, and a tale of the city’s ambulance director (“Within a few minutes, the sky was covered with very dark smoke that covered even the sunlight”). By comparison, “Trump & Friends” was declaring this a “Mitch McConnell Monday,” as he plans to see President Trump, while CNN’s “New Day” and MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” were heavy on Trump-related politics, including last week’s news on the Iran deal and Obamacare.
Indeed, there was greater interest among the cable folks in jobless quarterback Colin Kaepernick filing a collusion grievance against the NFL than there was in all those dead people in Africa. At least CNN got to the story eventually, albeit after discussing Kaepernick’s case and chances for regaining employment. But if one doubted any U.S. national self-interest, The Washington Post opened, “The death toll from two truck bombs in Somalia’s capital reached 300 on Monday, as the deadliest attack in the country’s decade-long war with Islamist extremists signaled that the insurgency is far from defeated, despite years of U.S. counterterrorism operations.”
A former FCC chief disses the new guy
On CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” Tom Wheeler said current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (his successor) is “complicit” in Donald Trump’s absurd call to revoke broadcast licenses by not showing some cojones and speaking out against Trump. Of course, Wheeler himself was occasionally accused of the most rank partisanship (by the time he left, the three Democratic commissioners and two Republicans were rarely even speaking to one another).
Jane Mayer on Mike Pence
The estimable New Yorker writer profiles the vice president and concludes, “Many Americans have debated
whether the country would be better off with Pence as president. From a purely partisan viewpoint, Harold Ickes, a longtime Democratic operative, argues that — putting aside the fear that Trump might start a nuclear war — ‘Democrats should hope Trump stays in office,’ because he makes a better foil, and because Pence might work more effectively with Congress and be more successful at advancing the far right’s agenda. Newt Gingrich predicts that Pence will probably get a chance to do so. ‘I think he’s the most likely Republican nominee in 2024,’ he said.”
Headline of the day
Wall Street Journal op-ed (Part 1)
In hopping on the Sen. Bob Corker Truth Bandwagon, Peggy Noonan writes, “But we are a nation divided on the subject of Donald Trump, as on many others, and so this is a time to be extremely careful. Unnamed sources can — and will — say anything. If you work in the White House or the administration and see what Mr. Corker sees, and what unnamed sources say they see, this is the time to speak on the record, and take the credit or the blows.”
Wall Street Journal op-ed (Part 2)
Robert Blecker, a New York Law School professor, urges Donald Trump to morph into Teddy Roosevelt on the subject of football violence. Amid the view that things have gotten out of hand in the NFL, Blecker recalls how Roosevelt prodded significant rules changes in college football. He beckoned coaches and other officials to the White House in 1905 after 18 players died that year (the talk was similar about somehow ruining the sport with new regulations).
Becker doesn’t mention it but the Roosevelt actions were a direct result of a Chicago Tribune investigation into the violence of college football and disclosure of those deaths.
Wall Street Journal op-ed (Part 3)
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., writes in “The Media and the President it Deserves“: “Yet it does not follow that everything Mr. Trump does and says is illegitimate, false and unreasonable. This trope is itself a symptom of institutional decline in the media, practiced especially on a daily basis by MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe.'”
Analyses of Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodies
Tim Hwang, a tech workers who lives in San Francisco, “found himself routinely saving images of Facebook’s CEO to his phone, capturing what he called the ‘amazingly bizarre, kind of iconic’ pictures that appeared in the media or on Zuckerberg’s own Facebook page.” Now he’s gathering essays about some them and starting a digital magazine.
Alec Baldwin, Beatles expert
You could, of course, see Alec Baldwin play Trump again on “Saturday Night Live,” in part making a funny call to Mike Pence. He routinely gets tons of attention from a sympathetic anti-Trump press for his portrayals. But listeners to SiriusXm’s new Beatles Channel also heard him (multiple times) all weekend hosting a show and displaying thoughtful analyses of their music and times, proving especially strong on the voices and aura of Lennon and McCartney. Along the way, he threw out the interesting notion that McCartney’s is the most recognizable voice in history.
Great deadline work
Kudos were passed out here Friday to Tom Boswell, longtime Washington Post baseball writer, for his deadline effort at the final Cubs-Nats playoff game ended well after midnight in the capital. There was another fabulous effort I had missed, another Post deadline column, this by Barry Svrluga. In part:
“By the standards of a normal town, the fashion in which all this happened at Nationals Park was bizarre — funhouse mirror weird, baseball as a Dali painting. Here, in strait-laced Washington, it fits into the athletic fabric perfectly. The pattern, by now, is well-established. Washington might be able to muster optimism on a morning such as Thursday. It might, over lunch, convince itself of this advantage or that.”
“But get through the gate at the ballpark, and dread is so readily available. The concessionaires slip it between the hot dog and the bun, mix it into the carbonated beverages, slide it into the programs. By now, babies here are born with it, ingrained.”
And then there’s Harvey Weinstein
No, there’s not. Let’s take a pass today. You can find unceasing coverage elsewhere. Meanwhile, here’s The Guardian on the 300 deaths in Somalia.
And the weekend family sports update: The Chicago City Soccer U9 Red won 3-0 in Highland Park, Illinois, while the U15 Blue lost 6-1 in Niles, and the Welles Park Iron Pigs were rained out.