Rashad McCants, one of the stars of Carolina’s 2005 national basketball championship team, says that during his three years at UNC, he was steered to African and Afro-American studies classes that never met — and that that maneuver might have made the difference in his academic eligibility in the fall 2004 semester.
Speaking to ESPN’s investigative series “Outside the Lines,”McCants said he believed Coach Roy Williams ’72 knew about the system of “paper classes” in the AFAM department, a system that has been acknowledged by the University administration over the course of several investigations. Williams vehemently denied that he knew what McCants said he did.
McCants told ESPN that he was named to the dean’s list in spring 2005 after receiving A’s in four classes, which he said he did not attend. He said tutors were writing his term papers.
ESPN said that it obtained McCants’ transcript for his time at UNC and that it indicates he received almost all excellent and good grades in AFAM studies and average-to-poor grades in others.
McCants said he rarely attended class in about half the time he was at Chapel Hill.
ESPN quoted McCants as saying: “I thought it was a part of the college experience, just like watching it on a movie from He Got Game or Blue Chips. … When you get to college, you don’t go to class, you don’t do nothing, you just show up and play. That’s exactly how it was, you know, and I think that was the tradition of college basketball, or college, period, any sport. You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that.
“You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”
Williams said in a prepared statement: “Our players have been deeply hurt over the last couple of years, and again today, by the comments and innuendo concerning their academic achievements. The young men who accepted scholarships to play basketball at this University have done so expecting a world-class basketball experience, in addition to a world-class education. Obviously, we pride ourselves on being one of the top basketball programs in the country, but equally important, in helping our players grow academically and socially, as we promised their parents we would.
“Our student-athletes understand the value of a degree from The University of North Carolina and accept their academic responsibilities in earning that degree. They take seriously their efforts to, in some cases, become the first member of their families to graduate from college.
“With respect to the comments made today, I strongly disagree with what Rashad has said. In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says, and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me. I have spent 63 years on this earth trying to do things the right way, and the picture he portrays is not fair to the University or me.”
ESPN included a prepared statement from Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham, which read: “It is disappointing any time a student is dissatisfied with his or her experience. I welcome the opportunity to speak with Rashad McCants about returning to UNC to continue his academic career — just as we have welcomed many former student-athletes interested in completing their degrees.
“I have gotten to know some of Mr. McCants’ teammates, and I know that claims about their academic experience have affected them deeply. They are adamant that they had a different experience at UNC-Chapel Hill than has been portrayed by Mr. McCants and others.”
In the statement, Cunningham said he would encourage McCants to speak to Kenneth Wainstein, who is conducting the latest investigation into roots of a scandal that has kept UNC in the athletics-academics news for nearly four years.
More recently, at least two other former athletes, Deunta Williams ’10 and Michael McAdoo ’12 — both football players — have gone public with accounts not unlike McCants’. Neither of them spoke in as much detail. The UNC trustees also have heard from athletes who said they had good academic experiences at Carolina.
Sixteen players from UNC’s 2005 national championship team issued a statement Friday to The Associated Press:
“We are proud of our accomplishments both on and off the floor at UNC. With conviction, each one of us is proud to say that we attended class and did our own academic work. We want to thank our advisers and counselors who supported us, while also maintaining the integrity of the institution. We also want to make it clear that Coach Williams and his staff operated with the highest level of ethics and integrity within their respective roles. We are forever grateful for the lessons we learned on the court, in the classroom and during our time in Chapel Hill.
“In light of the comments made by Rashad on ESPN ‘Outside the Lines,’ we want to state that our personal academic experiences are not consistent with Rashad’s claims. We know that Coach Williams did not have any knowledge of any academic impropriety, and further that Coach Williams would not have tried to manipulate a player’s schedule. Rashad will always be our teammate, and we wish him well on all of his future endeavors.” The statement was signed by Charlie Everett ’05, Raymond Felton (who had a projected class year of ’06), Brooks Foster ’08, Damion Grant ’06, Jesse Holley ’07, C.J. Hooker ’05, Jackie Manuel ’05, Sean May ’09, Wes Miller ’07, David Noel ’06, Byron Sanders ’06, Melvin Scott ’05, Reyshawn Terry ’07, Quentin Thomas ’08, Jawad Williams ’05 and Marvin Williams (who had a projected class year of ’08).
An internal probe of AFAM found a multifaceted web of academic fraud in the period from summer 2007 through summer 2011 in which professors were absent, grades were changed without proper authorization and faculty oversight of students’ work was suspect. Nine classes containing 59 students were found to be “aberrant” — showing “no evidence that the faculty member listed as instructor of record or any other faculty member actually supervised the course and graded the work, although grade rolls were signed and submitted.” Another 43 courses either were aberrant or were “taught irregularly” — in other words, “the instructor provided an assignment and evidently graded the resultant paper, but engaged in limited or no classroom or other instructional contact with the student.”
Later on, a probe led by former Gov. James Martin extending back to 1994 found more than 200 suspected or confirmed no-show classes.
In the print story of the “Outside the Lines” report, ESPN said a copy of McCants’ transcript labeled “unofficial” said he received six C’s, one D and three F’s in his classes outside AFAM; and 10 A’s, six B’s, one C and one D in AFAM courses. McCants left UNC after three years to pursue professional basketball — his projected graduation year was 2006.
ESPN reported: “McCants said his first year he did go to class and took several legitimate, core-curriculum courses. But overall, his transcript shows he ended up with more than 50 percent of his courses being AFAM classes.
“McCants said he was headed toward ineligibility during the championship season because he had failed algebra and psychology, which accounted for half of his credits, in the fall of 2004,” ESPN reported. “He had two A’s in AFAM classes in addition to the F’s. He said coach Roy Williams informed him of his academic troubles during a meeting ahead of the spring semester.”
What follows in the article is somewhat confusing. ESPN quoted McCants as saying: “There was a slight panic on my part … [he] said, you know, we’re going to be able to figure out how to make it happen, but you need to buckle down on your academics.
“He said Williams told him ‘we’re going to be able to change a class from, you know, your summer session class and swap it out with the class that you failed, just so the GPA could reflect that you are in good standing.’ ”
McCants was the second-leading scorer on the team that defeated Illinois for the national title, Williams’ first as UNC coach. McCants played in the NBA for four seasons; more recently, he has played professionally in Europe.
McCants was not known as a model citizen in UNC athletics. There were several reported incidents of his failure to get along with Matt Doherty ’84, who coached the team in McCants’ freshman year, and of McCants being a central figure in a difficult year that led to Doherty’s dismissal.