Bowl Season 2014: Bogus Classes For Athletes, Big Money For Schools

Bogus classes for star athletes lead to college professor's indictment.

A professor at a top-ranked university has been indicted in a scheme involving bogus classes for star athletes, exposing a scam with millions on the line. Photo from the UNC Tarheels Basketball team’s Facebook page.

Last week the University of North Carolina routed the University of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. The final score was 39-17. Meanwhile, some Tar Heel players should have received t-shirts reading, “I play footbawl for UNC. And all I got was a lousy B+ on a term paper I didn’t write for a class I didn’t attend. Plus this t-shirt!” 

Bogus classes for star athletes gets UNC professor indicted.

Evidence continues to mount that college sports have been corrupted by money. Now an investigation into bogus classes at UNC has led to the indictment of a professor at that school. This week Julius Nyang’oro, head of the African and Afro-American studies department, was charged with fraud.

His crime: accepting $12,000 to teach a class that never met.

Not.

Once.

It will be bad enough if Nyang’oro turns out to be simply an enterprising crook. It will be worse if the investigation spreads. And it looks like it will. The course in question was AFAM 280:  Blacks in North Carolina. It was scheduled in the summer of 2011. Nineteen students enrolled. Eighteen were UNC football players. The other was a former player.

Faculty signatures routinely forged.

But the problem wasn’t limited to one course. An investigation revealed that there may have been 200 bogus classes. Some dated back to 1997. Most showed “little or no evidence of any instruction.” At least part of the time AFAM 280 was supposed to be meeting, Nyang’oro was traveling in Africa. When investigators turned over other academic rocks it got uglier. Nearly half of students enrolled in bogus classes were athletes. Evidence seems to show there were 500 cases of unauthorized grade changes. Faculty signatures were routinely forged.

The Raleigh News & Observer explained:

Athletes—particularly those in the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball—had a disproportionate presence in the classes, and correspondence from the tutoring program for athletes showed staff members there knew the classes didn’t meet and were not challenging. Among the athletes they helped place in the classes were academically challenged freshmen, records show.

The same paper noted earlier this month:

Nyang’oro, 59, of Durham, has never publicly spoken about the case. He resigned his department chairmanship in August 2011, shortly after UNC began an internal investigation into his classes. That was prompted after the News & Observer reported that a prominent football player…had received a B-plus in an upper-level class in the summer before he began his first full semester as a freshman. Nyang’oro had been listed as the instructor.

UNC’s investigation found that class, too, was among more than 50 African studies classes over the previous five years that showed little evidence of actually meeting. Nine of those classes were disavowed by the instructors listed as teaching them, and the investigation found evidence the handwriting on course documents didn’t belong to them.

The evidence so far shows those enrolled were told to write a paper to turn in at the end of the semester, with little evidence it was actually read. But the grades were good to excellent, averaging better than a B-plus.

Who else knew about this scheme? Were coaches complicit? Did school officials look away? At least one former colleague insists Nyang’oro is a scapegoat. “But I am sure there were many people in the athletic department and elsewhere who were aware…the problem was institutional.”

Or, should we say: “The problem is financial.” Big time college sports mean big time bucks. What do you do to ensure star athletes stay eligible? If you must sacrifice, sacrifice learning! Walter Byers, a former NCAA director, has called this approach a modern “plantation mentality.” Sadly, most athletes enrolled in these courses were African-American. (Three fake classes, for example, promised to teach students Swahili.) A select few can hope to play pro sports. The rest are part of a rigged game.

The schools keep winning. The alumni are happy. The alumni donations flow in. The athletes get meaningless grades. Four or five years later, if lucky, they’re awarded a worthless diploma. They don’t learn about blacks in North Carolina. They don’t learn about the history of slavery in that state. They don’t study Jim Crow laws. They don’t hear about the lives of share croppers. They don’t learn a word of Swahili. They don’t learn how write with a little more clarity and style. They might as well have signed up for courses in Pig Latin.

Big money in bowl football still to be made.

Well, who cares! According to the News & Observer the football staff at UNC is well paid. Head coach Larry Fedora’s pay package was worth $2.13 million in 2012. Both schools in the Belk Bowl earned a minimum of $1.7 million. And let’s not forget the branding of the games themselves. Belk, Inc., a Southern department store chain, paid a hefty fee for naming rights. This year sponsorship of bowl games will bring in almost $100 million. About $71 million will go to the athletes themselves. No. No. We’re totally kidding. That giant pile of cash will go to ESPN.

Let’s not forget the commercials, either. A thirty-second spot during the Vizio BCS Game will cost $1.15 million.

The money just keeps rolling in. This season the Big Ten earns earn $46.7 million by sending seven teams to bowls. Even the games proliferate. There are thirty-five bowls this year. The Atlantic Coast Conference has teams in eleven. Auburn and Florida State, like UNC an ACC member, play for the championship January 6. Both earn payouts of $22 million.

Other ACC teams play in the other games. Some of those include:

  • Chik-fil-A Bowl
  • The Russell Athletic Bowl
  • The Advocare V100 Bowl
  • The Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

And Last but not least:  The Vizio Bowl Championship Game!

Money talks and only the athletes get screwed.

Money talks. At this point, why not let money talk as loudly as it wants? Shouldn’t organizers of the Chik-fil-A Bowl, for example, ban gay and lesbian fans from the field and stands? You know—in keeping with the corporate sponsor’s mentality? Maybe players should wear advertisements on the fronts of their jerseys. Or corporate logos on the sides of their helmets! At halftime, select senior student athletes could gather round a trash barrel at the fifty yard line. There they could burn valueless diplomas.

As long as no one sets fire to a playbook, it’s seems unlikely coaches would care. University officials could look the other way. Business sponsors and rich boosters could sit back in glass booths high above the field and talk business deals. Fans of winning teams will have bragging rights for the next year.

Only a few athletes end up getting screwed.