Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten
The basketball program’s ties to AFAM; Wayne Walden

            Following the discovery of information contained within Julius Peppers’ transcript, several realizations began to set in: the academic fraud had apparently been going on at UNC for an extended time, and the school’s storied basketball program had likely been a main beneficiary of the impermissible transgressions.  Several very candid and critical news articles along those lines were written in the days following the uncovering of the transcript.  In addition, there were numerous older articles that when re-examined and viewed under this new umbrella of knowledge, showed some amazing coincidences that would provide further damage to UNC’s academic/athletic past.  By way of those older articles, even more connections between the AFAM department and people within the basketball program would be shown.
            The first article to directly call out UNC basketball appeared on August 14, 2012, just two days after Peppers’ transcript was revealed.  The article, penned by national columnist Gregg Doyel, was featured on the website.  He raised many bold questions of the program, wondered how so many abnormalities could have been overlooked for so long by both UNC and the NCAA, and briefly compared the school to others that had committed academic fraud. 
            “It’s astounding,” Doyel wrote, “how this academic scandal could go on for so many years and help so many UNC athletes without being stopped.  Where was North Carolina’s leadership in all of this?  Where was the UNC president, the athletics director, the coaches for football and – yes – basketball?  Where was the NCAA?”  He also asked where the media (himself included) had been for not noticing any potential problems earlier.  He owned up to his own oversight:  “(I was) in disbelief that what seemed to be happening at North Carolina actually was happening.  This was an indictment of UNC academics, and that didn’t jibe with me, maybe because I didn’t want it to jibe.  … I didn’t want to believe this school… could be so shameful.”
            When mentioning that it was individuals from a rival school’s fan site that discovered the transcript, he said it added humiliation to the episode, but not just for the sake of a rivalry.  “(It is) humiliating also because it underscores just how ignorant North Carolina wanted to be.  UNC officials didn’t want to know what was happening, so they stuck their heads in the dirt – and it just got worse.  How bad?  Maybe the ugliest academic scandal in NCAA history.  This one is worse than what happened in 2007 at Florida State.  I mean, it’s not even close.  Florida State had some numbers that looked bad – 61 athletes from 10 different teams – but this UNC scandal dwarfs it.  FSU had 61 tainted players, almost all from the same class.  North Carolina has at least 54 classes.”  The figure Doyel used of 54 classes, of course, was only from the 2007-2011 review – and did not include others that were likely fraudulent beginning with the years of the Peppers transcript, and perhaps even earlier.  Indeed, unbeknownst to him, the number of classes would exponentially grow in the future as more data would be revealed.
            Doyel continued with that line of thinking:  “How many athletes were given free grades from the Department of African and Afro-American Studies?  We don’t know.  UNC never wanted to find out, but the school has no choice now.  The school mustered a halfhearted search for the truth earlier this year when it found those 54 tainted classes, but its search went back only to 2007.  Despite efforts from the Raleigh News and Observer that suggested otherwise, the school held firm that the academic fraud started in 2007.”
            Once the transcript from 2001 was uncovered, he said, everything changed.  “We have evidence not only of grades being given to athletes for at least a decade – but also that UNC academic support staff steered athletes to those classes.  This can’t be dismissed as the rogue actions of a man named Julius Nyang’oro, the embattled former head of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.  If it was just him, well, that could be explained away to a certain extent.  The school would be vulnerable to NCAA sanctions, but one man running amok?  That’s not horrible.”
            Doyel then laid out the alternative to a Nyang’oro-only setup, one which was becoming increasingly more likely given all the data that was emerging from the UNC scandal.  “So what actually happened at North Carolina?  Academic advisers steering athletes to Nyang’oro’s department.  Athletes staying eligible by getting grades in some classes that didn’t even exist.  Athletes who played football and men’s basketball.  Did the coaches know?  Well, ask yourself this:  Are we to believe that academic advisers were steering famous athletes to bogus classes behind the backs of the millionaire coaches who recruited, coached and needed those athletes to remain eligible?”
            Doyel went on to give more numerical figures, and spell out more likely conclusions.  “Answers are coming, but we already know this:  The scandal spanned the decade from 2001-11.  Know what happened that decade?  The UNC men’s basketball team played in three Final Fours.  It won national titles in 2005 and 2009.  Did any players on those NCAA championship teams attend bogus classes?  According to the News and Observer, almost 67 percent of the students in those 54 classes were athletes.  Most played football, but the newspaper reported that UNC records showed ‘basketball players had also enrolled.  In two classes, the sole enrollee was a basketball player.’”
            Doyel then returned to the topic of Florida State, a school which had recently been punished for academic improprieties.  “See, this is so much worse than what happened at Florida State – and Florida State vacated two seasons of saintly Bobby Bowden’s victories, suffered scholarship restrictions and received four years of probation.  What happens to North Carolina?  Well, that depends.  First, the NCAA has to show it cares.  Incredibly, to date, the NCAA has not.  Trained NCAA investigators missed the very stuff that is seeping out now, including the transcript discovered by a single N.C. State fan.  The NCAA poked around, found some stuff, but didn’t find this.  (They) didn’t find 54 bogus classes from 2007-11, or the unknown number of classes dating to 2001, filled mostly by UNC athletes.  The NCAA hasn’t uttered a peep in recent days about these new allegations, either.  Neither has the school.  Not Roy Williams.  Not anybody.”
            Doyel closed his article with what would appear to be the obvious next steps to be taken – assuming such steps were dictated by morals, ethics, and rules.  The first would have been by the NCAA, and the next by the school:  “It’s time for the NCAA to start digging.  In the meantime, North Carolina should get a head start on some of its own chores.  For starters?  There are some banners at the Smith Center that need to come down.”
* * *
            Another scathing yet insightful article appeared by national writer Pat Forde on August 17, 2012.  Forde was a respected senior writer for Yahoo! Sports.  He began his piece by referencing the recent sanctions that the NCAA had given to Penn State University, and voiced questions as to whether that governing body would continue to show a strong policy of judgment with regards to UNC.
            “After the NCAA circumvented its own crime-and-punishment process and blew up Penn State last month,” Forde wrote, “we all wondered how long it would take for a follow-up test case to measure the willingness of the ‘new NCAA’ to flex its precedent-setting muscles again.  Was the Penn State case a sign of a new era in policing of athletic programs gone bad, or an isolated blip brought on by a school’s unique abdication of morals and responsibilities?  Lo and behold, we have the festering scandal at North Carolina to give us a quick answer”.
            “As the Raleigh News & Observer and North Carolina State message-board vigilantes continue to go where UNC’s timorous administration wouldn’t in plumbing the depths of the Tar Heels’ academic mess,” Forde continued, “the situation demands a signal from NCAA president Mark Emmert.  Will he and the NCAA executive committee cowboy up again?  Will they circumvent the rules manual and due process and go after Carolina on the basis of general principle, a la Penn State?”
            Forde then highlighted some of Penn State’s sanctions: a four-year bowl ban, $60 million fine, scholarship cuts, and more than 100 vacated victories.  All, he noted, without the benefit of an NCAA investigation or infractions hearing.  Penn State had, however, been very forthcoming with its sharing of information – inviting Louis Freeh and his law firm, Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan LLP, onto campus.  Freeh was a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a native of New Jersey, and did not have any connections to Penn State or its administration.  He was given full access to all of the school’s past documents, emails, and records.  His eventual findings would prompt the NCAA – and its president Mark Emmert – to hand down the heavy sanctions against Penn State.
            Included in Forde’s August 17 article were some of Emmert’s quotes following the penalization of Penn State several months earlier:  “While there’s been much speculation about whether this fits this specific bylaw or that specific bylaw,” Emmert had said, “it certainly hits the fundamental values of what athletics are supposed to be doing in the context of higher education.  One of the grave dangers stemming from our love of sports is the sports themselves can become too big to fail and too big to even challenge.  The result can be an erosion of academic values that are replaced by hero worship and winning at all costs.”  Forde pointed out that it seemed pretty clear there was an erosion of academic values at North Carolina, as well as a situation that threatened the fundamental value of what athletics were supposed to be doing in the context of higher education – situations taking place that in fact mirrored Emmert’s words exactly. 
            Forde wrote, “The more we learn, the more it seems UNC has made a mockery of its ballyhooed academic mission for a long time in order to gain competitive advantage in football and men’s basketball.  With the introduction of what apparently is former two-sport star Julius Peppers’ transcript into the public forum, it seems reasonable to assume that Carolina has been skating athletes through the African and Afro-America Studies department in order to maintain eligibility for more than a decade.”
            Forde said the problem wasn’t isolated to one coach, one sport, or one professor.  Instead, it was an institutional issue, “and that conjures one of those NCAA catch phrases that translate to big trouble: lack of institutional control.”  However, despite the overwhelming abundance of evidence that had already surfaced in 2012 even prior to the Peppers revelation, NCAA enforcement had for some reason shown no interest in returning to Chapel Hill and reopening its investigation.
            This was where one of UNC’s main public-relations “message points” apparently came into play.  According to Forde’s article, UNC said the NCAA’s reasoning for staying away had been that the academic problems uncovered in the initial AFAM review were an institutional issue and not strict athletic rules violations.  As school officials had made sure to state numerous times in the media over the previous several months, both athletes and non-athletes had taken the fraudulent classes, and thus it was the school’s opinion that the improprieties fell outside the NCAA’s realm of jurisdiction.  This, despite the fact that the majority of students in the classes were athletes, and that numerous players on the school’s basketball and football teams had chosen AFAM as their major over the past two decades.  Also, Forde pointed out another note of incomprehensible hypocrisy: “And as much as the NCAA is hands-on with transcripts and grades of athletes coming out of high school,” he wrote, “it is notably (and nonsensically) hands-off with transcripts and grades of athletes in college.” 
            Forde then returned his argument to the Penn State case.  He said that there was nothing about what happened at that school that fit “neatly” into the NCAA rules enforcement, yet the association felt that Penn State had placed sports ahead of the university itself, so the governing body acted.  Forde asked if Emmert and the NCAA executive committee would penalize another program gone wrong (UNC) without a cut-and-dried bylaw violation (though it had become abundantly clear that fraud had occurred which directly benefited athletes).  Or, had the NCAA simply penalized Penn State as part of a P.R. move to “appease the outraged and show that the NCAA could hit a bloated target at point-blank range?”
            Forde made it very plain that he did not consider the crimes at North Carolina to be the same as the human atrocities at Penn State, a point that was also stressed in this book’s introduction.  Having made that point clear, he would then go on to say, “In terms of what’s objectionable to the NCAA – alleged systematic academic fraud over a decade or more – that (is what) strikes at the core of the entire athletic franchise.  And now that a ‘Damn the Rulebook, Do What’s Right’ precedent has been established, is North Carolina’s sad academic scandal a logical second act for the Emmert Posse?  If not, I’d say the NCAA has some explaining to do.”
            Forde closed his article by referencing Josephine Potuto, a former member and chairwoman on the NCAA Committee on Infractions who was at the time the NCAA faculty athletic representative at Nebraska.  She had told Yahoo! Sports in July of 2012 that she was concerned about the precedent the Penn State ruling had set for the NCAA to jump outside its standard operating procedures.  She said that the NCAA would have to explain itself every time it chose not to get involved in an athletic issue on campus that was not directly related to NCAA bylaws.  At the very least, UNC had just provided such an issue.  Furthermore, depending on whether Emmert and his group chose to dig further into the school’s blatant academic transgressions, issues that were much more clearly-defined (in terms of NCAA bylaws) could await.  As Gregg Doyel had said in his previous news piece, however, the NCAA first had to show that it cared.
* * *
            USA Today printed an article on August 16, 2012, that in part recounted a radio appearance that UNC basketball coach Roy Williams had made earlier that day.  Williams made some puzzling remarks about the past that perhaps unintentionally alluded to issues and offered clues to certain patterns within the men’s basketball program.  Williams graduated from UNC, had been a longtime assistant to Dean Smith before leaving to be the head coach at Kansas, and then returned to coach his alma mater in 2003.  He had since gone on to win two national titles at the school, in 2005 and 2009.  “You know,” Williams said, “I’m bothered by a lot of stuff.  I’m bothered by some sensationalism going on.  I’m bothered by problems that we have.  I’m bothered by mistakes that we have made.  But you know, I think in my opinion it’s best for me to keep my mouth shut and let our administrative people take care of it.”  Even while referencing possible “mistakes” that had been made, Williams still defended his teams’ academic records at both Kansas and UNC.  His further comments, however, would continue to refer to issues and  problems.  “I don’t think you can put your head in the sand and say, ‘oh we’re all right – it’s just people making things up.’  I’m not saying that.  There’s been some mistakes made, and there’s been some serious mistakes.”  A closer look at earlier stories could possibly point to the source of those references, references which may have even been a Freudian slip of sorts.
* * *
            An article appeared on, the website of The Indianapolis Star newspaper, on April 2, 2010, several years prior to the discovery of UNC’s academic fraud.  The title was “They got game, but do NCAA players graduate?”  Its topic dealt with some of the top men’s basketball programs and players – and how those players performed in the classroom.  In retrospect, it would end up giving some startling insight into UNC and its AFAM department.  It painted a much clearer picture as to the extent the department may have impermissibly benefitted athletes in the past. 
            According to the article, The Indianapolis Star newspaper had used public records requests and spent four months collecting data and analyzing graduation rates to look at how athletes who played in the men’s basketball Final Four from 1991 to 2007 fared in the classroom.  The newspaper had obtained results for 357 athletes who played at least one minute in a Final Four semifinal or championship game for a taxpayer-funded public university.  UNC fell under that university distinction, and had furthermore advanced to the Final Four nine different times during the years covered – winning the national title on three of those occasions.  Coincidence or not, the start of that successful time period which included nine Final Four trips and three national titles coincided almost exactly with Julius Nyang’oro being appointed as the chairman of UNC’s AFAM department in 1992.
            The article mentioned the term “clustering,” which referred to a high percentage of teammates receiving the same degree.  The school it used as the most glaring example was UNC, pointing out that of its basketball graduates, Communications and African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) stood out as the two majors of choice.  In fact, from the UNC team that won the 2005 national title, there were seven Tar Heels who had the same major, which was AFAM.  That list included stars Sean May, Jackie Manuel, David Noel, Jawad Williams, Melvin Scott, Reyshawn Terry, and Marvin Williams.  Sean May, who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in 2005 and would go on to play in the NBA, gave some insight into the attractiveness of an AFAM major.  He told the paper that Afro-American and African Studies offered “more independent electives, independent study.  I could take a lot of classes during the season.  Communications, I had to be there in the actual classroom.  We just made sure all the classes I had to take, I could take during the summer.” 
            The article didn’t stop with those amazing bits of information that correlated with – and in large part seemed to verify – some of the data of current 2012 academic scandal.  It noted that a small handful of past star basketball players had left college early but had still managed to graduate.  Of the half-dozen listed, four were from North Carolina: Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, and the aforementioned May.  All four of the athletes graduated with a degree in AFAM.  Furthermore, an academic anecdote involving Marvin Williams was recounted in the article.  He was the second pick overall in the 2005 NBA draft after just one season at UNC.  Yet according to a school spokesman, Williams was working toward a degree and was (at the time of that 2010 article) a junior academically.  His major, like the other star UNC players, was AFAM.
            Kadie Otto, the head of the Drake Group at the time, told the newspaper that her concern with clustering was that it raised questions about whether athletes were being directed to a path of least academic resistance.  “I’m fascinated at the longevity of North Carolina’s clustering,” Otto said. “It’s unbelievable.”  She noted that big schools had mostly escaped penalties tied to the NCAA’s academic progress rate (APR).  “It begs the question, ‘How are they doing it?’” Otto said.  “They just seem to find a way.”  The NCAA’s home offices were in Indianapolis, the same town as the “Star” newspaper.  That made it especially convenient for the paper to ask an NCAA official about UNC’s clustering.  That official declined to comment, however, saying the clustering was a campus issue.
            Data throughout the years shows that multiple UNC men’s basketball players had chosen AFAM, the department rife with academic scandal, as their major.  Along with the aforementioned seven players from the 2005 national title team, plus Stackhouse, Jamison, and Carter, other former players included Quentin Thomas, Mike Copeland, George Lynch, and Ed Cota.  Those were just some of the ones who had declared AFAM as their major; numerous other basketball players throughout the years were known to have taken courses in the department in order to fill the needs of certain elective categories.
            John Blanchard, a senior associate athletics director at UNC, told the paper it was reasonable that people in a peer group might gravitate to the same major.  He said clustering “just doesn’t bother us here (at UNC)”.  He continued: “The question is whether they are getting a good education, and the answer to that is a resounding yes.”  Two years later, as evidence of fraudulent courses would be exposed, that article – and all the information held within, Blanchard’s quotes included – was bathed in a much different light.  The article also should have served as a warning bell in 2010 to higher authorities such as the NCAA, but that was not the case.  The university may have heeded the warning to an extent, however, as the number of basketball players claiming AFAM as a major would coincidentally drop sharply following the publication of the Star article.
* * *
            When Roy Williams left Kansas to become the head basketball coach at UNC in 2003, he did not come alone.  Wayne Walden had been the academic adviser for the men’s basketball team at Kansas for 15 years prior to his departure in 2003 to follow Williams to UNC where he had accepted a similar position on Williams’ support staff for the Tar Heels.  In a July 3, 2003, article that appeared on the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World website, Wayne Walden said that “The University of Kansas has been great to me.  It’s really tough to leave here.  The biggest thing I’ll miss is the relationships with the students.”  Walden himself was a 1984 alumnus of the Kansas.  His loyalty, though, was apparently to Williams, and not to the school from which he graduated.
            One of Walden’s duties while at UNC, aside from being the main academic adviser for the basketball team, was also to apparently oversee the scheduling of classes for all of its players.  According to the school’s “Office of the University Registrar” webpage, members of the school’s Priority Registration Advisory Committee (PRAC) decided which university groups or organizations would receive priority registration in any given semester or year.  Athletic teams were always some of those groups, as they needed to try and schedule their players’ classes around practice and game times.  Past PRAC documents listed on UNC’s website showed the teams which have received priority clearance, and also the person responsible for submitting those eventual scheduling requests.  The past PRAC schedule documents showed that during his time working as the main academic adviser for UNC’s men’s basketball team, Wayne Walden was the person responsible for submitting the players’ class registration requests to the Priority Registration Advisory Committee.  Over the years, those registration requests would have included a multitude of courses in the AFAM department – for the many players who claimed it as a major, as well as for players who were taking such courses as electives.  That would seem to indicate that Walden not only had intimate knowledge of the basketball players’ course selections, but possibly also a direct hand in explicitly guiding them to those academic destinations.
            Walden remained alongside head coach Roy Williams and with the men’s basketball team until the summer of 2009, just after the team won its second national title during his (and Williams’) time in Chapel Hill.  During the closing remarks of the team banquet in mid-May of 2009, Roy Williams said the following:  “You guys have heard… a lot of guys…. Wayne, stand up a second.  Everybody clap for Wayne.  I told Wayne that I wasn’t going to do this, but Wayne I’ve said this to my team and they’ve gotten over it so you’ve got to get over it too.  I lied.  I’ve been a head coach for 21 years.  … Wayne Walden has been with me for 21 years.  And Wayne Walden came to North Carolina just trusting me and Coach Holladay that things were gonna work out alright… Wayne Walden found a jewel, and he’s going to get married this summer, and Wayne Walden at the end of the summer will be leaving us.  And it’s funny … our academic guy is the best you can possibly be.  I’d rather lose every assistant coach, together… than lose Wayne Walden.  You guys heard it a little bit here… each young man talking about Wayne helping them with their academic side and getting their degree.  For 21 years I’ve trusted one person… Coach Holladay helps, there’s no question about that.  He’s the person on staff that’s the main contact with Wayne.  But for 21 years I’ve trusted one guy, with everything academically for every player I’ve ever coached.  … I’d ask him about Ty… he’s never had to go back and check and say I’ll get back to you, because it’s been his life. … I just want you to know that I’ve been lucky.  To be at Kansas, I’ve been lucky to be at the University of North Carolina… but I’ve been really lucky to have the academic advisor I’ve had for 21 years.  Wayne, thank you.”
* * *
            In a further example of just how little the mainstream media and the general public had been aware of the academic indiscretions that had been going on at UNC, an article entitled “Basketball champions make grades academically, too” had appeared on a variety of news websites on April 23, 2009.  It was written by AP Sports Writer Michael Marot.  Part of the article covered the presumed longstanding academic accomplishments of the UNC program.  Head coach Roy Williams had been unavailable to comment for the article, but it noted that in the past “Williams has credited Wayne Walden, the associate director of the academic support center, for making academics a top priority.”  Then-current UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour had given a statement commending the six Tar Heel teams that had appeared on a recent NCAA Academic Progress Rate “honor roll” list of sorts:  “That’s a credit to our coaches for recruiting true student athletes, to the student athletes for staying committed to academic integrity, to our staff for its timeless support and to the University of North Carolina for providing the education and inspiration to achieve academically.” 
            The media and general public had obviously not been the only groups who had bought into the pristine image of the academics of UNC’s athletes.  NCAA spokesman Erick Christianson had said in that AP article, “There is a myth out there some hold that you have to somehow sacrifice your studies to do well on the court and that just isn’t true.  This (APR list) reinforces that you can excel in competition and in the classroom.  So those who hold onto the dumb-jock myth, it’s time to let it go.”  Three years after Christianson’s statement, the AFAM discoveries at UNC in the summer of 2012 suggested otherwise.  Christianson’s parent association – the NCAA – was still nowhere to be found in Chapel Hill, however.
* * *
The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- Why had Florida State been forced by the NCAA to vacate numerous victories due to an academic scandal that was essentially much narrower in scope than UNC’s – yet the NCAA had thus far skipped judgment on the Tar Heel program?
-- Was the NCAA’s penalizing of Penn State a public relations move, or would they be consistent and treat other schools which blatantly placed athletics above academics the same way?
-- Based on Roy Williams’ references of “past mistakes,” how much had he truly known beforehand about his players’ involvement in the over decade-long AFAM academic scandal?
-- Why had the NCAA not investigated the suspicious pattern of athlete “clustering” at UNC when it was reported in the mainstream media in April of 2010?
-- How many of the seven AFAM majors on UNC’s 2005 basketball national title team had taken a fraudulent course at the university?
-- How many of those players’ transcripts, if investigated and reviewed by the NCAA, would have shown strikingly similar class and grade patterns as the transcript of Julius Peppers?
-- As an investigative result of the above two questions, how many of those players would have then been retroactively ineligible to participate in sports while at the UNC, meaning any victories in which they had participated would need to be vacated?
-- To what extent was academic adviser Wayne Walden involved in the scheduling of basketball players in AFAM classes that were possibly known (within the UNC infrastructure) to be fraudulent?

-- How would UNC’s yearly Academic Progress Rates (APR’s) looked without the benefit of the potentially numerous fraudulent AFAM courses?