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What N&O must do: Stop, please stop, for the love of God please stop

Posted on Jun 2, 2015 by




With the NCAA handing North Carolina its Notice of Allegations, many columns have been written about the university as we await the redacted release of the NOA. Some have anticipated how the NCAA will view the scandal, others have made the point that a postseason ban would punish the wrong people.

One, however, stands out among the rest.

Monday night, this tweet popped up, rather innocently, on my timeline:

I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was a gift from the heavens, a take so nuclear hot that it could melt through the iciest tundra, hot enough to make Earth’s core feel like a dive into an Alaskan swimming hole. I was given, giftwrapped with a bow on top, the mother of North Carolina takes. It sat there in front of me, smoke rising from it, a fiery orange glow emanating from it. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and that was only the title.

So, let’s get through this work of art together, with commentary added when necessary. Take a deep breath, guys. This is going to be a #LONGREAD.

We start with the opening sentence:

“More important than whatever action the NCAA takes against the University of North Carolina for what is perhaps the worst athletics-academic scandal in collegiate history is what the UNC administration will do to reel in its corrupt athletic department and its aiders and abettors.”

Okay, first and foremost, that is the clunkiest lead I’ve ever read. The writer, Patrick O’Neill, starts off his passionate op-ed piece with a lot of words about how North Carolina’s reaction to whatever punishment it may receive is more important than the punishment itself. It’s a solid premise, although a closer look would have alerted O’Neill that the university has already started the process of assuring such egregious academic irregularities will not take place again. But let’s continue.

The NCAA is between a rock and a hard place because it badly needs North Carolina athletics to be vibrant and healthy. A few years of severe sanctions against UNC means a potentially huge revenue loss for the NCAA, from both television rights and post-season play.

This has become a recent favorite conspiracy theory as the NCAA continues its investigation of the paper class scandal. For some reason, apparently any sanctions against North Carolina will greatly damage the NCAA’s revenue. I disagree, for a few reasons:

    1. The NCAA doesn’t need any particular school to be successful in order to make money. Since O’Neill is happy to bring Penn State into the equation (believe me, we’ll get to that later), let’s use the sanctions against the Nittany Lions as an example. Penn State had been established as one of the best football programs in the country, but after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, heavy sanctions were placed on the team. Did the NCAA crumble after a marquee program had been harshly punished? Not exactly. In fact, in 2014, Penn State football raked in the 12th highest revenue in the country, bringing in $117,590,990. Despite still reeling from lost scholarships, the football team is still profiting for the school. It feels safe to assume that North Carolina could find itself in a similar situation financially.
    2. Not to go full-Darren Rovell, but North Carolina, as a brand, will continue to make money regardless of sanctions. Whether it’s the Jordan-association, the new brand identity the university just released, the loyalty of fans/alumni or even the projected success of the coming year’s team, North Carolina is still a marketable program, especially when talking basketball.
    3. Another recent example of a team being sanctioned despite value would be the Syracuse Orange. In 2014, Forbes named Syracuse the 9th most valuable team in college basketball, and in March, the NCAA drilled the Orange with penalties, including a suspension for legendary head coach Jim Boeheim.

Okay, so now that we’ve debunked that conspiracy theory, let’s move on:

“Before these revelations of extreme cheating, Carolina had a squeaky-clean reputation, due in large part to the integrity of late basketball coach Dean Smith. That’s all over now. The UNC athletic department will likely never again enjoy such a lofty status in collegiate sports.”

It’s not just cheating, but EXTREME cheating. It’s like normal cheating, but with backflips off a 20-foot ramp on a dirtbike. O’Neill is correct with his statement that Dean Smith’s integrity gave North Carolina a large part of its clean reputation, but that last sentence is interesting. North Carolina can never go back to the days of the admittedly obnoxious “Carolina Way.” This scandal will forever be tied to the university’s history, and North Carolina will never be able to change that. That doesn’t mean that the athletic department can’t do its part to assure a highly improved student athlete experience, though. Given the national attention given to North Carolina’s scandal, it will be intriguing to see if the reform aspect of the scandal is covered as closely as the crime itself.

“On the other hand, UNC, as the state’s flagship institution of higher learning, should see the reputation of its university and the integrity of its academics as pre-eminent and thus institute dramatic and historic reforms. Up until now, the UNC administration has maintained a laissez-faire attitude toward the athletic department. “Trust us,” was their cry. “We pay our own way, and we follow the rules.” This relationship provided the athletic department reckless freedom to self-destruct.”

Was any research done before writing this? Again, see the Carolina Commitment website to see exactly what those reforms are.

“Once I told former UNC athletic director John Swofford-”


“Once I told former UNC athletic director John Swofford I wanted to write a story that, in part, looked into athletic department finances. Swofford placed his hand on my shoulder and said: “Now, Patrick, why would you want to write about a thing like that?””

I wasn’t there, so I’ll have to take O’Neill’s word that his interaction with Swofford went as described. But come on, man. You’re losing me. Let’s get to the fire Roy campaign.

“So went my journey at The Chapel Hill Newspaper as I reported on stories that looked into how the UNC athletics department spent its money. Despite North Carolina’s status as a state-funded public institution, getting financial information from the athletic department was never easy. Then-UNC attorney, Susan H. Ehringhaus, would usually help the AD’s office erect road blocks, and it often required the help of N.C. Press Association lawyers to get UNC to provide the information to which the newspaper and the public were entitled.”

I’m very confused as to what this has to do with the premise of “Fire Roy Williams, remove banners, forfeit wins.” This is like buying a ticket to the new Avengers movie, sitting down in the theater, and finding out midway through that it’s actually Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

“Now what? As much as it will hurt in the short term, UNC has to give Williams his walking papers.”

HERE WE GO!!!!! I’m not even mad that O’Neill completely forgot to transition between “bitter experience from years ago” to “get rid of Roy,” we finally made it to the main course. Let’s do the damn thing.

“Williams, who likes to flippantly refer to the scandal as all that “junk going on,” is a big part of the problem. Despite his status as the state’s highest-paid employee, Williams did not do his job. At best, he is an incompetent administrator who failed to maintain control over the handful of athletes he was supposed to monitor. At worst, he knew all about the cheating and took a see-no-evil-Joe-Paterno approach, hoping his immorality would go undiscovered.”

Okay, there’s so much to talk about here. According to the Wainstein Report, Roy Williams was actually not a big part of the problem at all. One of two scenarios took place: Williams genuinely didn’t know that he had players in fraudulent classes, or Williams noticed something was up and steered his players out of them. Instead, O’Neill portrays this as Williams being incompetent for not doing his not-job (does that make sense? I think that makes sense). Then, we have the last sentence. Let’s break this down:

    1. Stop comparing “immorality” of the Penn State and North Carolina scandals. Just don’t do it. They’re two completely separate cases, and what happened at Penn State was far more inhumane than any “shadow curriculum” could possibly be. It’s offensive, it’s tasteless and it’s inaccurate. Do better.
    2. Here’s the difference between how Williams and Paterno handled their respective scandals: If Williams did know, he took action immediately. He steered his players out, and while it’s easy to ask why he didn’t blow the whistle, he did everything you could reasonably ask a coach to do in the given situation. If Williams knew, he didn’t allow the problem to continue to exist in his program, but rather did his part to make sure his players weren’t involved.

Also, why is Roy Williams the target here? Because Butch Davis was already fired? If there’s one program this op-ed could be appropriately written about, it would be football. Instead, O’Neill takes aim at basketball, which came out of the Wainstein Report relatively clean in comparison to what was going on around it. Let’s continue:

“UNC should also take down Williams’ now-tainted 2005 and 2009 NCAA Championship banners from the Smith Center rafters. These titles were won by cheating, plain and simple. Carolina must own up to its ill-gotten titles and voluntarily disown them. Additionally, all UNC victories for any years in which ineligible players were used should be vacated. Williams – and UNC basketball – should have those wins wiped from records. The Carolina football program, and any other nonrevenue teams that used ineligible players, should face the same fate.”

I can at least listen to the argument that the 2005 NCAA Championship was “tainted,” but the inclusion of 2009 is quite humorous. The Wainstein Report makes it abundantly clear that Williams made sure that his players were not steered into AFAM “one or two years” after arriving at North Carolina, so the insinuation that the 2009 NCAA Championship team should have its banner taken down because it was “won by cheating, plain and simple” is off-base. The same could be said about vacating wins, especially after 2006. And more imporantly, what does vacating wins do? The wins would be taken away from school records, but does that honestly matter? At least O’Neill never claims that he wants this to happen “for the student athletes.” Also, I love how Carolina football is finally mentioned, nonchalantly, ina throwaway sentence at the end of the paragraph. Forget those Meineke Car Care Bowl appearances, we have basketball banners to tear down!

“The UNC administration must implement a two-tiered system of control over its athletic department, meaning its athletic director must answer to a dean whose job will be to maintain a hands-on, day-to-day connection between the “real” university and athletics. UNC should also implement a dual system of economic regulation in which the athletic department does not maintain unfettered control of its finances. It’s time to implement a system of checks and balances between the university and its wayward athletics department.”

I still don’t quite get where the economic aspect of this comes into play other than sour grapes, but maybe I’m just missing something. I’m not sure what the role of the athletic director would be if the dean basically did his job for him, but again, maybe I’m just missing something. I guess the more important question is the matter of who gets to fire Roy Williams.

“It’s time for honest leadership to prevail in Chapel Hill. The time of reckoning has come for UNC athletics, and the NCAA may not be the agency to provide the incentive that leads Carolina back on the road to integrity. The university must take steps to steady the ship and steer it back to the “Carolina Way.””

For the most part, honest leadership has prevailed in Chapel Hill, again going back to the Carolina Commitment. Chancellor Carol Folt and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham have done a great job of uncovering the sins of North Carolina’s past. Before the Notice of Allegations is even released, O’Neill seems to believe that the punishment isn’t enough, which likely reflects the mindset of many as we continue to learn what the next chapter will be for North Carolina. “The time of reckoning” is a nice hot take term, but I’m still a firm believer in calling the next year #Tarmageddon.

My biggest issue with this piece is not that O’Neill claims that North Carolina “must take steps to steady the ship and steer (the university) back to the ‘Carolina Way,'” but rather that the solutions he brings forward do nothing to fix the issues at North Carolina. Tearing down banners won’t improve the education of student athletes. Vacating wins won’t assure proper reform. Firing Roy Williams won’t keep athletes (and really, students in general such as myself) from finding the easiest classes to boost GPAs. The ending of this piece insinuates that O’Neill wants North Carolina to learn from this scandal and become a better institution of learning, but the body of his work indicates that he just wants to watch it burn.

At the end of the day, O’Neill isn’t the only person to blame for this piece making it to the public. An editor read it, thought it was acceptable to publish and posted it on the website. It damages the reputation of a publication like the News & Observer when it attaches its name to a piece like this, and it adds nothing to the discussion. Instead, it only adds to the perceived bias that many Carolina fans (somewhat inaccurately) believe the N&O has against the Tar Heels, which is a shame, because it overshadows some quality writing by people such as Andrew Carter.

So, that being said, here’s what the News & Observer must do, per O’Neill’s logic: Fire the editor, remove the post, vacate subscribers.

(Or maybe just learn from its mistake and take steps not to post pieces like that in the future. Maybe that’s a more logical take on it.)

All content in blockquotes taken from Patrick O’Neill’s op-ed piece for News & Observer.

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