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‘Discredited’ takes a long look at UNC-Chapel Hill athletics scandal, but fails to give voice to athletes caught in it

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Andy Thomason: Discredited: the UNC scandal and the amateur ideal of varsity athletics

[University of Michigan Press; August 27]

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is not meant to be understood. Its contradictions are the point, like the new book, Discredited: the UNC scandal and the amateur ideal of varsity athletics explores, using scandal-plagued UNC-Chapel Hill athletics department as the source.

Who benefits from such contradictions, or who loses, is clearer, but it is a reality that the book is loath to satisfactorily fathom.

Programs like Carolina’s generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue each year from the sport, dollars that aren’t passed on to those who fuel the company, but to the NCAA, a nonprofit, and its institutions. members. In turn, they spend that money on facilities, branding and staff salaries: In 2019, 40 of the 50 highest-paid public employees in states were college football head coaches.

Conversely, players are not paid employees but rather are “student-athletes,” a 70-year-old term coined to evade workers’ compensation claims when players are injured or killed during competition.

This summer, that tension was too strong; the courts have given players a trickle of profits through deals whereby they can benefit from endorsements with their names, pictures and likenesses (NILs), and the NCAA can still make money. But without further reform, the NCAA will remain what it always has been: a heavy, cost-effective appendage sutured to the torso to the torso of higher education, and, at worst, a grindstone around the neck of top colleges, inhibiting their academic goals. . .

Andy Thomason, the author of Discredited and an editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education, a DC-based publication aimed at those working in academia, understands this paradox. It takes a keen but detailed look at an ecosystem in which collegial athletic ambitions came into direct conflict with academic standards, and then, in the 2000s, clearly took precedence.

Until July, the main compensation NCAA athletes could receive was a purse, a pair of boots emblazoned with Nike-swoosh that players could shoot at if they found time to visit the library between double sessions. and the study of the film. Authorized by the NCAA from 1957, sports scholarships opened the door to scandal across the country by incorporating a pay-to-play model, Thomason writes.

The UNC, under the in-principle leadership of head basketball coach Dean Smith, has stood out as the rare school capable of doing both. A top athletic university that hasn’t sacrificed anything from an academics point of view, the campus fostered an exceptionalism of Tobacco Road known as “The Carolina Way.”

The scandal would shatter that facade as UNC administrators scramble to follow stipulations guiding athletes’ academic eligibility. It all started small, with a student who needed credits to graduate and a department of African and African American studies, formed in 1997, ready to help. The department created a new course, supervised by the department director, in which the only requirement was the completion of a single document.

From there it metastasized. By the time a disgruntled learning scholar denounced in 2010, more than 3,000 students had taken these “paper-based courses”. The secretary of the department, not its chairman, often wrote down papers, and rather indulgently. And the athletics department, keen to keep unprepared students eligible for the sport, had taken the ruse through policy advice and course creation, with athletes making up a disproportionate 47% of those enrolled in these. Classes.

Thomason perfectly synthesizes the construction of paper classes, the banal slippery slope that the administrators have taken and the fallout from the eventual discovery. Disgust turns to shock when the university, dispelling claims of preferential treatment of NCAA athletes, argues that since all students had access to these paper courses, no favoritism was displayed. Shock turns to laughter when the NCAA accepts the argument.

Discredited does well to identify the pressures facing academic advisers that have made the system buzz, but not all the dots are connected. Two of the scandal’s biggest figures – former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and former department secretary Debbie Crowder – have declined talks with Thomason. Their absence is not surprising, but one of the perks of waiting until 2021 to write the book should, in theory, be telling the whole story.

More disturbing is the priority given to the humanity of academic staff over that of athletes, who, displaced by countless figures of white saviors, are largely rendered invisible and speechless. Thomason makes this intention clear in the first chapter, writing that while the cost of amateurism to athletes is a staple, “comparatively little has been written in recent times about the costs to higher education institutions.” .

As it stands, the Athletes Agency in Discredited is fluid and never flattering: they “seized the opportunity” to follow these courses, but their successes are in chalk, in an infantilizing pattern which one would have hoped that it had ended with The blind side, to the aid of their advisers. By my calculations, two former athletes, both basketball players, are interviewed and quoted in the text, primarily to provide moral statements such as “she really was the mother I wish I had” by the way. academic support staff.

It is telling that the book considers the scandal’s biggest victims to be the dismissed advisers, rather than the athletes deprived of proper fiduciary compensation and whose insufficient reparation – the promise of an education – was later sacrificed.

Thomason is rightly pessimistic about the long-term success of an imperfect union between an academic mission and the entertainment of high-profile athletics. But it can work for both sides – with athletics lending a marketing, branding and fundraising outlet for the school and school legitimizing the sports business and subsidizing its labor costs – so much. let no one stop to consider the needs of athletes or students.

In the conclusion, Thomason writes “that there are no villains in this story, only well-meaning people who suffered a sobering fate,” a statement that requires a historic suspension of disbelief. These words suggest that a skeptical eye might be better trained on the administrators and systems of the Thomason Centers throughout the book.

After all, if you’re writing about a 2021 college sports and higher education scandal and can’t find a villain, then maybe you just need to look a little harder.


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