By Christopher B. Daly
The latest episode of stupid, destructive results stemming from collegiate involvement in big-time athletics involves the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. This one is particularly painful to me, since I got my master’s degree at UNC in 1982. (Yes, that was the height of the Michael Jordan era in Tarheels hoops, and yes, I was a fan. I had not yet figured out how deeply corrupting the NCAA is.)
In today’s column, the NYT’s Joe Nocera lays out some of the low-lights from the downfall of UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp (what a name!).
Here’s a link to some of the coverage of the UNC mess by the estimable N&O, the News & Observer of nearby Raleigh. You know you’re in trouble when the biggest paper that covers you has to create a standing headline like “UNC Scandal.” The N&O has a story about a recent talk given by Mary Willingham, who once labored in the belly of the athletic beast, helping unprepared athletes navigate their ways to remaining eligible while working nearly full-time as minor-league players for pro sports.
Willingham, who worked as a learning and reading specialist inside UNC’s academic support program for athletes, talked Thursday about her struggle to combat the system. She spoke of NCAA paperwork that arrived annually that required a signature and promise that she hadn’t seen cheating, or been a part of it.
“I’ve got to tell you that most of the time, I scribbled my initials on it,” Willingham said. “So yeah, I lied. I saw it – I saw cheating. I saw it, I knew about it, I was an accomplice to it, I witnessed it. And I was afraid, and silent, for so long.”
Willingham still works at UNC, though not with athletes. She’s an assistant director in the center for student services and academic counseling. Of the 750 to 800 athletes at UNC, she described 150 to 200 of them on Thursday as “seriously underprepared” for the academic rigors of college life at UNC.
During her 20-minute speech, she lambasted the NCAA – calling the organization a “cartel” and describing its academic entrance standards for athletes “a farce.”