If UNC Doesn’t Deserve The Death Penalty, Who Does?

John Steigerwald Contributor
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Congratulations to Roy Williams.

He has been able to keep a straight face while saying that he had no idea that many of his basketball players at North Carolina were taking sham courses in the Afro-American studies program.

This is the institution of higher learning that, according to a whistle blower in the UNC Athletic Department, has, for decades, been giving scholarships to athletes who read at somewhere between the fourth and eighth grade level.

The results of an independent investigation by former federal prosecutor Kenneth L. Wainstein were released on Wednesday and if the NCAA doesn’t issue the death penalty to UNC’s athletic program, then it is even more useless than anyone could have imagined.

The scam was first brought to light by Mary Willingham, who worked as an academic counselor for UNC athletes. She spoke of “students” who couldn’t read beyond the fourth grade level and a few who couldn’t read at all.

That led to Wainstein’s investigation.

In simple terms, the scam involved steering black athletes toward courses in Afro-American studies. Whatever grade they needed to remain eligible was the grade they received without the inconvenience of, you know, going to class or taking tests.

But really, why should anybody be surprised that kids, who are reading at an elementary school level, would have to cheat to stay eligible?

One of those players was Rashad McCants. He told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in June that Williams helped him manipulate his transcript from the fall of 2004. He replaced failing grades that semester with passing grades from summer school courses to keep him eligible.

Williams appeared on the show with 11 of his former players and said — with a straight face — that he didn’t know what McCants was talking about.

According to the investigation, five of the players on UNC’s 2005 national championship team were enrolled in a total of 39 bogus classes.

So, when does that 2005 championship banner come down? Williams should have been fired by now.

Maybe you believe that he didn’t know what was going on, even though UNC football coaches have admitted to being aware of the scam, but I’m not buying it for a minute.

How many kitchens did Williams sit in over the years and promise the parents of a potential recruit that he could be trusted to make sure that their son would get a good education?

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt has already fired four people and put five others under disciplinary review. Personnel laws prevent her from making their names public.

I’m betting that Williams still has his job.

Folt has some plausible deniability since she’s only been on the job since 2013, but, based on the pervasiveness and long history of the corruption, it’s hard to believe that someone didn’t at least mention it to her at a cocktail party.

Folt could do the right thing — fire multiple coaches and impose the death penalty on her own football and basketball programs instead of waiting for the NCAA to come up with reasons not to do it — but I wouldn’t bet on that happening.

The NCAA will get around to ruling on the UNC case after it conducts a study on the effectiveness of allowing athletes to spread cream cheese on their bagels.

Don’t bet on the national media putting much pressure on the NCAA. The reaction, based on what I’ve seen since the results of the investigation were released on Wednesday, has been a long, collective yawn.

And this story is not one that should only interest the sports media. It’s not just about basketball and football. It’s about lousy high schools that graduate kids (mostly black) who have trouble reading “The Cat in the Hat.”

Where’s the outrage over kids who read at the fourth grade level being able to get a high school diploma?

And who thinks that the University of North Carolina is the only institution of higher learning that allows this to go on in the interest of justifying billion-dollar TV contracts?

I once watched a college football player at a major university put the free books he had just picked up on the first day of the semester under his desk. Three months later, I saw that the books hadn’t been touched. I also know that he didn’t go to one class that semester.

He was given the answers to tests before he took them.

He made the Dean’s List.

That was in 1970.

Pittsburgh ex-TV sportscaster, columnist and talk show host John Steigerwald is the author of the Pittsburgh sports memoir, “Just Watch The Game.” Follow him on Twitter.