In 1985, then-UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian claimed one of his recruits, Clifford Allen, was deserving of a full academic scholarship. If he was granted one by the school, it would free up an extra athletic scholarship for him to stock his roster.
His argument was based on Allen earning the academic distinction of “valedictorian.” At the time, UNLV gave the valedictorian of any school in America a full ride. The rub was, Allen wasn’t at a high school, but in a GED program. And the GED program operated out of the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility in California, where Clifford resided during what otherwise would have been his senior year of high school.
Valedictorian of a jail GED program?
“We all laughed, but then I got to thinking, maybe that was a good idea,” Tark explained. He had a point. Where was it specifically written that a juvenile detention center couldn’t have a valedictorian? (The argument was never decided because soon after his release Allen stole a car and got sent to prison. He later served 23 years in prison on a second-degree murder hit.)
Tarkanian spent much of his Hall of Fame career concocting schemes like that, much of it rooted in the concept that the NCAA was essentially a sham. He lived in a state of bewilderment that others didn’t see it as he did, or pretended they were better than that – most often the blue-blood schools back East, particularly in the ACC.
Tarkanian passed away in 2015, at the age of 84, which is unfortunate for many reasons, including robbing the world of his reaction to Friday’s NCAA ruling on an academic fraud case involving the University* of North Carolina.
The lengthy investigation centered on a series of no-show and no-work academic classes that operated for 18 years and were taken by numerous athletes, particularly men’s basketball players. The Tar Heels’ 2005 and 2009 national titles were, at least in theory, at risk.
On Friday, Carolina was found not guilty, skating without penalty after the Tar Heels went full Tarkanian and constructed an argument that wasn’t technically against NCAA rules because no one ever imagined any school would ever dare employ it.
In perhaps the most outlandish defense in NCAA infractions history, the school acknowledged that the classes that were taken were essentially bankrupt of any kind of teaching, learning or supervision … but that was perfectly OK with them.
To defend the basketball team, the university had to claim it wasn’t really a university.
“With respect to paper courses, there is little dispute,” the NCAA report on the case states. “The classes did not meet. They rarely, if at all, directly involved a faculty member. They required the submission of a paper, occasionally two shorter papers. The papers were often graded by the secretary, who admitted she did not read every word and occasionally did not read every page. The papers consistently received high grades. At the hearing, UNC stood by its paper courses. UNC indicated that the work was assigned, completed, turned in and graded under the professor’s guidelines. UNC also asserted that the grades are recorded on the students’ transcripts and continue to count.”
That isn’t a college class. That might not even count at the El Paso de Robles Youth Correctional Facility. Yet the University* of North Carolina is completely cool with that and continues to consider it worthy of full academic credit for not just basketball players, but all the other students who took it over nearly two decades.
Welcome to the Age of Tarkanianism, a complete rejection of the NCAA to the point where Carolina not only isn’t ashamed of academic fraud, it’s practically celebrating it.
By doing so, and since regular students also took the class, they didn’t violate NCAA rules. Sure, they took a shotgun to their academic credibility, but, hey, those championship banners get to stay. The truth is, alums probably care more about hoops anyway.
“The NCAA defers to academies on matters of academic fraud,” the NCAA conceded. “As institutions of higher education, the NCAA membership trusts fellow members to hold themselves accountable in matters of academic integrity.”
UNC was playing chess against the NCAA’s checkers. That was damn impressive, true Tark-level trolling.
Carolina even changed its argument for the NCAA. When the school was in front of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits it as an actual university, it declared that no-show, no-professor, no-work classes were wrong.
“UNC reported to its accreditor that what occurred for nearly 18 years on its campus was academic fraud,” the NCAA report stated. ” … Specifically, UNC admitted [it] demonstrated that, ‘the academic fraud was long-standing.'”
Now, though, the classes weren’t fraud. They were fine. The NCAA was astounded. The Committee on Infractions asked how this was possible.
“UNC [told] the panel that it was merely a ‘typo’ or oversight,” the NCAA wrote.
A typo? At this point the case had become a “My Cousin Vinny” punchline … “I’m not Jerry Gallo … I’m Jerry Callo.”
What exactly was the typo that caused the school to write the term “academic fraud.” If you replace one letter do you get some other phrase? Maybe whomever does the typing in Chapel Hill is so inept it typo’d an entire phrase which, coincidentally, spelled out “academic fraud” in a case that wasn’t at all “academic fraud.”
Heck of a coincidence, dadgummit.
The infractions committee stated it was “skeptical” and “troubled” by Carolina’s “shifting positions.” That’s nice. There was also was nothing it could do about it.
If the University* of North Carolina was willing to do this in the face of predictable mockery, then the University* of North Carolina could do it.
Bless UNC for it. Bless it for being unapologetically shameless. Bless it for not just pulling back the curtain on college athletics, but dousing it with gasoline and lighting it aflame. What Jerry Tarkanian, a legend ahead of his time, was saying and doing all those years ago has truly hit the mainstream, reaching levels of lunacy even he couldn’t have envisioned.
Those championship banners sure look pretty, though.