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Jay Smith has had enough of the vilification of Rashad McCants.
Smith, a North Carolina history professor who is co-authoring a book titled "Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports," emailed me Saturday. He was angry about comments he read in my Thursday column from Dean Smith-era Tar Heels who were critical of McCants in the wake of his allegations of academic fraud during his 2002-05 tenure as a basketball player at the school.
McCants produced a transcript for ESPN's "Outside the Lines" showing he had a 4.0 grade-point average during the semester when the Heels were winning the 2005 national title, allegedly despite doing no work. Players from the 1960s and '70s – Richard Vinroot, Bill Chamberlain and David Chadwick – all questioned the credibility of McCants to me.
And Jay Smith, a consistently outspoken critic of North Carolina's athletic department and university leadership during this so-called "Paper Class" academic scandal, wanted to respond to McCants' critics – not only the men quoted in my column, but others who have spoken out in other venues.
"I'm struck by the profiles of those attacking Rashad McCants," Smith wrote in his email to me. "On the one hand, you have old-timers spouting off about their experiences in the 1960s, '70s or early '80s. These people haven't seen the inside of an academic support program in years, even decades. They don't have a clue what the program was like in 2005. Yet they hurl their venom at McCants – a player who had the guts to share his transcript on television, and who also had the guts to buck the tide while he was at UNC [an offense against ‘the family' for which he has never been forgiven].
"On the other hand, you have more current players willfully deceiving gullible journalists – while carefully guarding their transcripts – because they don't want to face reality and deal with the shame that the 'Carolina way' was no more than an illusion during their playing days. Antawn Jamison [who played at North Carolina from 1995-98] has the audacity to call McCants a clown? Someone needs to remind Jamison that [UNC-sanctioned special investigator] Ken Wainstein is actually looking at transcripts. Wainstein knows. And he's going to be issuing a report.
"Other people know, too, including some who are writing books. The truth is eventually going to come out. And we'll see who's wearing the dunce cap when this story is all said and done."
Several people have questioned why McCants has spoken to the media but refrained from meeting with NCAA investigators and UNC officials. Smith offers an answer for that.
"As for McCants' refusal thus far to speak to the NCAA or UNC's compliance officer … I can't say that I blame him," Smith wrote. "Look at what UNC has done to him in the wake of his allegations. They slimed him, as they do everyone who dares to utter a critical word about the UNC athletic machine. Why would he want to sit down for a discussion with such people? [I suspect he sees Wainstein as just another agent of the University.] And the NCAA? McCants doesn't care about doling out punishment or 'making an example,' which is all the NCAA ever does.
"He wants to see the system change going forward. Neither UNC nor the NCAA has an interest in changing anything. This is why UNC will not acknowledge the truth of what McCants has said and it's why the NCAA went to court last month to maintain the charade that football and basketball players are ‘students first.' McCants, it seems to me, just has little interest in wasting his time."
Smith believes that instead of the backlash on McCants, more attention should be paid to coach Roy Williams and his staff. In particular, Williams' longtime academic counselor, who came with him from Kansas to North Carolina in 2003. Wayne Walden's name has been in the news since 2012, but Smith believes there should be more scrutiny of his role at UNC.
"When Roy Williams came here from Kansas, he brought with him the team academic counselor who had served him so well at Kansas: Wayne Walden," Smith wrote. "He regarded Walden as such a vital contributor to the good fortunes of his teams that he was practically moved to tears when Walden departed in 2009. Walden knew every detail about the academic lives of those players; he had to. He registered them for their courses, for crying out loud. [And that means he got on the phone with the Department of African and Afro-American Studies and he put them in paper classes.] Walden also spoke with Williams every day; he had to. Williams' claim that he had no earthly idea that his players were floating along on paper classes – and that he never would have guessed that one of his stars was enrolled in four no-show classes in the spring of 2005 – is nothing more than a confidence trick. He's counting on the customary journalistic favoritism, and journalists' amazing lack of curiosity, to enable him to tell this whopper and walk away with his aura intact. We'll see if that works."
UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner declined comment on Smith's assertions.