UNC Basketball: We Shouldn't Rush to Judge Roy Williams Over Academic Scandal

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IJune 12, 2014

File- This March 27, 2005, file photo shows North Carolina coach Roy Williams chatting with Rashad McCants after defeating Wisconsin 88-82 to win the NCAA East Regional in Syracuse, N.Y.  Williams denied allegations of academic wrongdoing Friday, June 6, 2014, by former player McCants connected to the school’s long-running academic scandal. In an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” to air Friday, McCants, the second-leading scorer on Williams’ first NCAA championship team in 2005, said tutors wrote papers for him and that Williams knew about no-show classes popular with athletes.  (AP Photo/David Duprey, File)
DAVID DUPREY/Associated Press

Roy Williams has been reminded once again how susceptible to accusation a college basketball coach at North Carolina can be.

Last week, former Tar Heel Rashad McCants told ESPN's "Outside the Lines:" 

tutors wrote his term papers, he rarely went to class for about half his time at UNC, and he remained able to play largely because he took bogus classes designed to keep athletes academically eligible (h/t Steve Delsohn).

Delsohn also reported McCants said:

head basketball coach Roy Williams knew about the "paper class" system at UNC. The so-called paper classes didn't require students to go to class; rather, students were required to submit only one term paper to receive a grade.

Major media outlets ran this story, suggesting UNC's hoops program could be guilty of academic fraud, just as former academic counselor Mary Willingham stated when she blew the whistle earlier this year concerning Carolina athletes' reading levels.

While some have automatically accepted McCants' statements as fact, we need to be careful to not be hasty in judging Williams.

This is not a court case, but the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" should be applied here. The burden of proof lies on the person making the claim, not the target of the claim.

So far, what we have is one former player's sensational statements. For me, that is not enough to implicate one of the most respected coaches in the game.

In fact, on the same day McCants made his contentions, an AP article in USA Today shared a statement from several players from Carolina's 2005 championship team McCants played on that said:

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 (Roy) 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.

Also, Williams did not just absorb these allegations. He appeared on a "35-minute, on-camera interview Saturday that was attended by 11 former UNC basketball players as a show of support."

Earlier this week, NBC Sports' Rob Dauster shared UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham's released statement:

Since Friday, there have been conversations inside and outside the Carolina Community about Roy Williams and Carolina Basketball. I am proud to see the outpouring of support from former players and the basketball community at large, which reinforces the respect, integrity and care of student-athletes that Coach Williams ahas shown throughout his career. Current and former players from across the country have told me that Coach Williams and his staff have always place a priority on self-accountability inside the classroom. I have witness this myself.

Everyone here at Carolina wants to know all we can about past academic and athletic anomalies. But speculation and innuendo should not replace the independent investigation currently being conducted by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. We must allow his work to be complete and thorough.

As late as Wednesday, McCants is sticking with his story. In fact, ESPN reported he has fired back at his former teammates, challenging them to release their academic transcripts.

WINSLOW TOWNSON/Associated Press

Make no mistake about it.

Many North Carolina basketball players over the years have taken advantage of some "non-traditional" classes (independent study and independent electives) while attending school in Chapel Hill. Quite a few of these classes were offered through the school's African studies department.

However, these types of independent study courses are not unique to UNC or its athletes. Most schools have classes that only require minimal work. And lets be honest, anyone who went to college had the low-down on what classes and professors were less demanding.

The question is not whether other Carolina basketball players took some of the same classes McCants was enrolled in. They did.

One issue is whether they wrote their own papers. Another issue is what role did Williams play in the academic side of his student-athlete's college experience.

As awkward and embarrassing as this new chapter is for the Tar Heel Nation, Williams has earned enough trust and respect over the years for us to delay our final evaluation of this matter.

If more comes out concerning Williams' direct role in this, the school should take appropriate action. If nothing more comes out, McCants (and all of us) should move on.