Commentary: Rashad McCants

2004 NCAA 2st Round: Texas v North Carolina

Today ESPN brought Rashad McCants’ story of University of North Carolina’s academic fraud to the forefront of the media. In case you haven’t heard, this morning McCants blew the whistle on UNC’s basketball program, saying that tutors wrote papers for him, and that he only needed to turn in one class to produce a passing grade — classes that were aptly named, “paper classes.”

Obviously the news caused a lot of backlash on both sides. I’ve read comments ranging from the 6th grade responses of, “Why would you tell on us?” to the prototypical, “It happens everywhere,” and also the Blue Devil troll saying “Go Duke!” If what McCants is saying rings true, it could easily mean another NCAA investigation of a school that hasn’t exactly held the highest standard of rule-following the past few years. A bigger issue is if the precedent was set by Butch Davis losing his job over similar circumstances, than Roy Williams might be facing a circumstance akin to Ned Stark: The hero everyone thought was off limits until George RR Martin flipped the proverbial bird, and put his head on the chopping block.

The issue I have is how in the world people are so daft as to think this doesn’t happen on gigantic platform across all of major division I sports. Before I get into the real meat and potatoes of this whole story, I’d like to give a brief description of my pre-college and collegiate life: Before I went to college I graduated from a prestigious private school, in an affluent neighborhood in the Midwest. I then went on to attend Miami University where I graduated with barely above a 3.0, getting at least two C’s on my way to a fifth year. And I did this all without playing a collegiate sport. Pretty impressive resume? I didn’t think so.

I often spent nights rigorously studying only to get a C on an exam. I would spend two weeks writing 60 pages of well-researched, anthropology papers, only to receive a B on half of them. I’m talking late nights, early mornings, and little-to-no sunlight. Again, I did this all while not playing a sport.

I saw friends in college stay in their rooms for days, studying for econ and accounting exams. Teachers waking up at 4 am to get to their student-teaching locations by 7. Again, this was all done without playing a sport.

I don’t consider myself a slouch by any means, and I also don’t think I was academically gifted. I probably worked about as hard as the average  student, and I was supposedly made for college (26 on my ACT and a 3.5 high school GPA) So how is it that people are expecting student-athletes — some of whom have 2.0 GPA’s and scoring 18’s on their ACT — to excel in college? I know if I got those scores and got into any college it would be no less than a miracle.

Almost every season there’s a story about a kid not able to attend a school because they’re “waiting on him to retake his ACT,” because he got a 14 his first go round and has to get past the prerequisite, “18” to be eligible to play (it might even be 16 for some schools). Can you imagine being told that you only needed to get an 18 on your ACT to attend a reputable collegiate institution? I’ll tell you one thing, I would not have tried so hard in my high school Latin courses. An 18 should never be a prerequisite for anything related to college. An 18 should be the prereq for you to be allowed to live by yourself, as you’ve just showcased you can write your name, DOB, and demonstrated a little competency in the English language.

Then there are the people who argue that by giving scholarships to athletes — who are often underprivileged —  colleges are giving them the tools to succeed. The reality is that colleges are putting student-athletes on the highest platform to fail. Imagine getting a D in a class and not only having to tell your parents, but then being constantly bombarded by reporters and coaches about why you can’t play football/basketball. Instead of replying and saying, “Oh I’m sorry have you taken immunology? Cause that course is like learning how to play a flute with your toes.” they have to bare the full weight of disappointment from parents, coaches, and the community at large, not to mention seething reporters who are trying to break a story at their expense. These are kids anywhere from 19-23 years old (sometimes 27 — I’m looking at you Brandon Weeden) and theyhave the accountability of a corporate CEO, as if it’s somehow remarkable that they screwed up in college, a place where, according to some, you’re supposed to screw up.

The system though, is irrevocably broken. How can kids coming from underprivileged backgrounds, who are essentially working full-time jobs in college, be expected to work as hard as someone who’s only job is to study? The argument has been revisited so many times that it’s become stale. Most regular college students go to middle school to prep for high school, they attempt to get good grades and test scores in high school to be eligible for college. “Student-athletes” perform in their given sport as it’s their ticket in, they need not worry about GPA’s or test scores because, inevitably, they will be taken care of. Then as a society we act shocked when they can’t perform academically at a university. I know I’m not the only person who saw this Chris Johnson interview and thought that the guy might have trouble reading, or listened to Jamarcus Russel and thought that there’s no way that guy ever wrote a paper above a 5th grade level. They were recruited to play sports, not to write papers.

Put it this way: if I’m applying for a job and I have horrible credentials, but I tell them I also happened to be the MVP of my high school football team, I would get laughed at and shown the door. Similarly, if I was auditioning to be an actor in a movie and I could act about as well as Bill Belichik, but I told them I was a 4.0 student, I would similarly be told to stop wasting their time. So why, oh why, do we allow academically underachieving individuals into academic centers based on athletic merit? The answer is as simple as we love our sports. So instead of throwing these kids into indentured servitude, let’s hide behind scholarships. That way we can say they get a free education, but instead of teaching them how to be responsible, and contributing members of society, we show them exactly how to backdoor everything, and show them that they’re above the law. One only needs to look at the long list of felonious and bankrupt athletes in the NFL to realize that education has failed.

Rashad’s not the first, and he’s certainly not the last to whistle blow on a major university. And while some universities are doing the right way, the system is still broken, but we get our games and, and student’s can still hyphen an “athlete” to their name and we can keep kidding ourselves that the whole thing is a win-win.