It’s been a year since an article by Paul M. Barrett of Bloomberg Business exposed the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s practices of offering the termed “paper classes” for student athletes, but the Tar Heels have refused to let it keep them from pursuing another championship. The team drew a No. 4 seed in this year’s big dance and will face the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers in the Sweet Sixteen on Thursday night.
To give a better idea of the scandal, as former Tar Heel Rashad McCants told ESPN’s Outside the Lines, players with failing grades would essentially enroll in the aforementioned paper classes, or no-show classes, and get A’s for courses in which the only required work was a single term paper, likely written by tutors. McCants also went so far as to say that Tar Heels coach and Hall of Famer Roy Williams knew about this method and did nothing about them.
Williams later denied McCants’s claims, but also admitted this season to being “worried sick” about the fallout from the NCAA’s investigation into the matter and specifically his own reputation. Adding to the stink of the scandal is the fact that Williams led the Tar Heels program to two NCAA Tournament championships, in 2005 and 2009. McCants was on the 2005 squad.
But unlike fellow ACC rival Syracuse, which imposed a self ban from this year’s conference and national tournament and eventually saw Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim suspended for nine ACC games and some of his wins vacated, North Carolina is not backing down in the face of adversity.
This year, the Tar Heels currently hold an overall record of 26-11 (11-7 ACC), and have marched to the Sweet Sixteen following big wins over ever-feisty Harvard in the Round of 64 and the tough Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday. It’s as if Williams and the team as a whole are saying, “Let the investigation play itself out. We’re here to give our best and bring the program another title!”
As great as that season-long mentality has been, that means beating a great Wisconsin team at the Staples Center on Thursday night, albeit one that just barely beat the Oregon Ducks on Sunday. The oddsmakers currently have the Tar Heels has 5.5 point underdogs, so beating the Big Ten champions will prove to be a tough task.
But these Tar Heels aren’t going to back down. Even with having to deal with negative PR all season long, it seems to have only made the team stronger. Junior guard Marcus Paige continues to play with the drive and determination of someone much larger than 6’1″, 175 pounds. Guys like Justin Jackson, Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks continue to step up their efforts and play each game as though it’s their last.
Given that attitude, even if the NCAA completes its investigation and imposes harsh sanctions on the program once the tournament is over, it’s going to be tough for any college basketball fan to root for them, regardless of allegiance.
*Section Photo (above) credit to Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Bob Donnan, USA Today Sports