By Sam Spiegelman
Student-athlete is a touchy term. It always has been, and unless there's change, it always will.
Rashad McCants personifies that notion all too well.
In an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines," the former North Carolina standout admitted that tutors wrote his term papers, that he rarely attended class and he remained eligible largely because he took "bogus classes" to keep his grades high.
McCants made the Dean's List in the spring of 2005 despite not going to any of his four classes that semester, according to the report. Still, he received straight A's. In addition, his tutors steared him toward African-American Studies courses where papers largely determined the final grades.
These accusations justify a 2011 report from the Raleigh News & Observer about widespread academic fraud at UNC. According to the investigation, the 2005 NCAA champion Tar Heels team accounted for only 15 enrolments.
In one year alone, when the team won the 2005 NCAA championship, basketball players accounted for 15 enrolments, university records show.
Two years later, members of the team all but disappeared from those classes, which did not meet and typically required a paper or research project at the end. UNC-CH records show just one basketball player took an independent study from the department in the past five years.
The NCAA reprimanded the UNC football program for allotting improper benefits and the use of academic misconduct involving tutors.
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham issued the following response to the "Outside The Lines" report, calling the report "disappointing."
"It is disappointing any time a student is dissatisfied with his or her experience. I welcome the opportunity to speak with Rashad McCants about returning to UNC to continue his academic career - just as we have welcomed many former student-athletes interested in completing their degrees.
"The university hired former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein in January to conduct an independent investigation into past academic and athletic irregularities. While these are the first allegations we have heard from Mr. McCants, I encourage him to speak with Mr. Wainstein. ...
"I have gotten to know some of Mr. McCants' teammates, and I know that claims about their academic experience have affected them deeply. They are adamant that they had a different experience at UNC-Chapel Hill than has been portrayed by Mr. McCants and others."
McCants added he was close to being academically ineligible during the Tar Heels' championship season after failing algebra and psychology. He had two A's and two F's, and when discussing the issue with coach Roy Williams, McCants said Williams made it seem like "we're going to figure out how to make it happen."
Of course, McCants remained eligible and finished as the team's second-leading scorer. He's expected to write a book about this experience.
Sam Spiegelman is a native New Yorker covering sports in New Orleans. He likes Game of Thrones way too much. Tweet him @samspiegs.