After a five-year wait which felt like it spanned multiple decades, we finally have the full gauntlet of allegations the NCAA is levying against the University of North Carolina. The allegations were made public by the school on Monday, and UNC now has 90 days to file a formal response.
That response from the powers that be in Chapel Hill might as well be a thank you note.
The release of the NOA has officially penned the writing we should have been reading on the wall for the past five years: UNC men's basketball is not going to get hammered by the NCAA ... they might not even get a slap on the wrist. Roy Williams isn't going anywhere, and neither are the Tar Heels' 2005 and 2009 national championship banners.
The NCAA's NOA is predictably dense and sheds little light as to what exact punishments may soon be tossed in the direction of Chapel Hill, but here's all you need to know: the men's basketball program isn't mentioned once. The only program mentioned by name in the document is the women's basketball program, which will undoubtedly fall on a Carolina blue sword in due time.
Even though "academic" and "fraud" have combined to be the headlining two-word phrase of this "scandal," the NCAA declined to investigate the allegation that over a span of 18 years, 3,100 students (47 percent of which were athletes) at UNC took advantage of African-American Studies courses. Those courses, according to the allegations, allowed the students to receive quality grades without having to show up for class, turn in papers or take tests. Ten of the 13 scholarship players on UNC's 2005 national championship team majored in African-American Studies.
The reason none of this matters? This was a scam that all students benefited or could have benefitted from, not just the athletes enrolled in the classes. There was also significant evidence that the students enrolled in these classes at least had to turn in something before being awarded a grade. Regardless of what the content of the turned in paper was, the fact that actual work had to be done makes it extremely difficult to prove academic fraud, and thus, the NCAA chose not to head down that road.
So that would appear to be that. Eighteen years of systemic fraud that directly goes against the heart of what higher education and the NCAA are supposed to be about, and yet North Carolina basketball is going to skate. This is an especially bitter pill to swallow if you're a fan of a program that has already had to deal with an extremely harsh punishment for a transgression much more limited in scope and which didn't directly go against the lead characteristic of the term student-athlete.
The fact of the matter is that everyone outside of those who dislike North Carolina men's basketball seems to want those to go away as quietly as possible. And everyone else? They really don't care all that much.
But why? Why is one of the largest and most egregious academic scandals in the history of the NCAA not more of a draw than, say, what the Louisville men's basketball program is still dealing with today? The answer is three-fold.
First, the details aren't salacious enough. There wasn't one story in the 59 pages of UNC's notice of allegations that could be turned into an appropriately clever College GameDay sign or enough juicy tidbits to produce a "10 Most Shocking Things About the UNC Scandal" BuzzFeed post that could make its rounds on social media. People want single stories that can become Internet memes, they want scandals that can be wholly mocked in 140 characters or less. This was never that.
Second, people already assume that this happens everywhere.The shock that goes hand-in-hand with the UNC story is attached to the length of time and the number of people affected, not the fact that star athletes were being given grades they didn't earn. These types of stories are nothing new, especially when it comes to college basketball. In the past two decades, Florida State, Minnesota, Georgia and Purdue have all seen their hoops programs hit with significant penalties after findings of academic misconduct.
Finally, there is no primary individual or individuals at the heart of the scandal. It doesn't matter that UNC athletes received a collective GPA of 3.61 in their "paper" classes and a 1.91 in their "real" ones; this isn't the type of cheating that grabs attention these days.
It's much easier for scandals to become national conversations when they have a clear jumping off point. The scandal at North Carolina always had too many branches, and they extended from too many different places. This was never solely about Roy Williams or Butch Davis or Mark Emmert or Rashad McCants, and that makes things complicated. There was always too much to talk about, and in the end, the result was a notice of allegations which appears to be too broad to unleash any headline-worthy penalties.
Ultimately, North Carolina basketball is getting the quiet conclusion that we all should have seen coming. It's frustrating for everyone, especially fans of a program that has already been hit significantly and still remains in the NCAA's unwanted spotlight.
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune