Why the UNC Cheating Scandal Doesn’t Matter

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The numbers are staggering. More than 3,000 student-athletes at UNC, the University of North Carolina, are being implicated in a bout of academic fraud that’s spanned years. No, we’re not talking about their admission into the NCAA — that’s an entirely separate bout of academic fraud, one that’s perpetuated by professional leagues and colleges for its incredible revenue and service as a feeder system — but rather a series of classes that existed almost entirely in order to raise athletes’ grade point averages until they were eligible to play their games under NCAA rulings. Stop. The. Presses.

Next, we’ll be talking about how athletes are given benefits simply because of their genetic gifts and celebrities. Soon we’ll be talking about how scholarships for people who don’t project to be professional sports players aren’t quite as fair as the ones for those who are. Heavens to Betsy, we could even talk about how academics might not be the main focus for these institutions of higher learning when it comes to recruiting players to play for them. Perish the thought.

The fact is, the only reason this is in any way an outrage, controversial, or even newsworthy is because the NCAA insists on setting the terms of its masquerade around the fact that these are student-athletes, rather than student-athletes. This is insipid. College sports exist as giant sources of revenue for schools like UNC, and that money train is entirely divorced from any real idea of higher learning.

If you’re getting a full ride for your football abilities, you’re not being brought to Chapel Hill because they’re expecting you to become erudite and dazzle the other team with your dissertation on the Socratic Method’s appearance in the history of human discourse. To think otherwise — to act like there’s some shock behind the idea that these “fake” classes were not held to the highest importance by anyone involved — is silly.

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We exist in a world where the NCAA is starting to have to pay athletes, and the illusion that these players are students in any meaningful sense of the term is really becoming that: an illusion. That’s not to say that there aren’t college athletes who don’t take their education seriously, but that it’s not very much of a stretch to say that the emphasis is on sports, rather than academics. Why there’s something inherently wrong with that has everything to do with the vestiges of amateurism as it relates to the NCAA, and exactly nothing to do with any sort of critical thinking.

The idea that athletes shouldn’t be on this separate track is misguided, and because they are, in fact, much closer to employees of a school’s athletic program than students proper, the outrage doesn’t seem to make sense. The only thing separating UNC from any other notable program across the country is the size and the scope of its “fraud,” which means that the moral outrage is largely unfounded. Being upset about it is, quite simply, standing on the wrong side of history when it comes to college sports.