Somewhere along tobacco road, one of college basketball's most storied dynasties lies wrapped in powder blue. The University of North Carolina, located in cozy Chapel Hill, is the historical powerhouse that resides there.
Also taking residence in this hallowed place is a row of five national championship banners, hanging alongside jerseys that bear names like Jordan, Cunningham and Worthy. Nestled comfortably off the Atlantic coast, the magical memories of Tar Heels country are a study in hoops history.
Under Dean Smith, UNC often had a reputation for winning without controversy. Any scandals were mere dust-ups. But with their most successful coach gone since 1997, the basketball program has seen a change in tone.
North Carolina is currently wrapped up in an investigation stemming from numerous charges of academic fraud, with many new stories have beginning to surface out of Chapel Hill. It appears there is a pretty tangled web to the whole situation... particularly in how it affects the future of the program.
With the news coming in like a fast break, let's take a look at 15 Things North Carolina Doesn't Want You To Know About Their Basketball Program:
15 Mary Willingham Comes Forward
"The athletic scholarship is just a lottery ticket with room and board, and a few concussions. Or, if you like Willy Wonka, it’s the golden ticket to win a tour here at our factory – where, by the way, you might get injured, or damaged. And there’s no insurance, no worker’s comp and no salary for your labor."
— Mary Willingham, in 2014
Willingham, the UNC academic advisor who came forward when cheating allegations originally surfaced about the Tar Heel football team, said those exact words about the basketball program. During an interview with CNN, Willingham said she had evidence that the academic cheating scandal was rampant. She recounted similar versions of the story to Bloomberg Business Week, as well.
14 News Travels Fast
Willingham alleges that UNC released another report by a board of educational experts outside the university that examined data between 2004 and 2012. That found that of 341 men’s and women’s basketball players and football, 34 students did not meet CNN’s threshold of being "college literate".
Local media begins to investigate the claims and former players begin to come forward regarding their athletic experiences at UNC.
Based on Willingham's account, CNN reporter Sara Ganim begins uncovering even more damaging evidence that lent credence to the former tutor's story.
13 Box Out
The News & Observer reports that UNC s faculty member Jan Boxill succeeded in getting a last-minute revision to a faculty executive committee report that removed text regarding her enrolling athletes in no-show classes.
Boxill, a former academic counselor for athletes, who was originally tied to cheating allegations in the women's program, was revealed to have football and men's basketball in her classes, as well.
"I didn't write their papers. I didn't change things in the sense of the content," Jan Boxill said in a statement through her legal team in August 2016.
The NCAA continues to investigate the link between Boxill's actions with the women's basketball team and her possible influence on the men's programs, as well.
12 The Wainstein Report
In February 2014, former U.S. Department of Justice official Kenneth L. Wainstein commissioned an independent investigative report of the UNC athletic department."Our goal is to create an academic success program that is one of the best, if not the leader, among peer universities," Joel Curran, the UNC Vice Chancellor of Communications, said at the time.
On October 22, 2014, the report was released, reporting that over 3,100 students had taken bogus classes that didn't meet the standards of the prestigious school.
"These counselors saw the paper classes and the artificially high grades they yielded as key to helping some student-athletes remain eligible," the report concluded.
The University immediately began to take steps to reform their tutoring program for student athletes.
11 Turning in Crib Notes as a Final Paper
On Slate's Jordan Weissman releases a story that fans the flames of the scandal even further.
In the mind-blowing story, Weismann lends credit to Mary Willingham's accounts of the saga by unveiling a 146-word, non-sourced, unedited essay on Rosa Parks that earned an A- for a credited course.
The athlete in question was not named in the Slate story, so he thankfully doesn't get credited for this inglorious opus:
[On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. “Let me have those front seats” said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. “I’m going to have you arrested,” said the driver. “You may do that,” Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them “why do you all push us around?” The police officer replied and said “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.]
What he did get credit for, however, was a college COURSE -and a chance to play...OF COURSE. While continuing to add victories on the court, the plot only thickened for the Tar Heels from there.
10 Damaging Reputations Beyond the Court
Almost overlooked in what has been labeled 'the largest academic fraud scandal in major-college history' are the academics, themselves. After all, if UNC is handing out free diplomas to their athletes, how much is a degree from the institution worth anyway?
No matter how much this chaotic 18 years saga affects the basketball programs, North Carolina's reputation as a highly-regarded top-level universities (not just the athletic department) is being questioned by some.
In other words, an accredited university that offers paper classes probably gives out degrees that aren't worth the paper their written on. At least, in the opinion of some scholars.
For a person who is attending college without athletics in mind, the sports scandal could affect the school's general enrollment. Who wants to invest thousands of dollars into a university whose curriculum is basically a joke? This is an issue of whether the entire system is about handing out degrees or actually educating its students.
According to NCAA bylaws, this falls into "non-compliance with the principle of … academic integrity." The loss of that integrity, unfortunately, affects everyday student life, as well.
9 Paper Classes Exposed in Paperback
In mid-2015, Willingham and fellow UNC professor Jay M. Smith release the book, "Cheated", which chronicles the story, including their own personal accounts.
The book not only receives critical praise, it draws the attention of observers who are expecting the hammer to fall on the Carolina program. For a scandal that essentially began with the football team and snaked its way through other, smaller programs, it had reached the top of the mountain. The crown jewel of Chapel Hill, the Tar Heel basketball program, was now more under the gun than ever.
As summer turned to Fall, Williams' and crew faced the challenge of this 2016-17 basketball season. As they navigate the always-tricky waters of the ACC, the 'Heels have to wonder how long before they're sunk by the NCAA.
8 Heat Under Williams' Collar?
Roy Williams has always been an emotional coach on the sidelines. Part scholar and part satan, he's long been known to be a chess master with players, officials and opposing coaches.
In the past two seasons however, bloggers and chat rooms have been discussing a bit of a dark change in Williams' demeanor. There has been the suggestion that perhaps the pressure of the NCAA being in his team's business is getting to the old ball coach.
It's shown this season, with a couple jacket tossing incidents early, as well as a bizarre sideline exchange with Clemson coach Brad Brownell in early January.
Is it a sign that Coach Williams fully knows that the worst is still to come from the NCAA? Or is he just tired answering questions and wearing tight neckties?
7 On the Rough Road of Recruiting
The ongoing scandal has had an affect on the school's recruiting in the past two years, according to Coach Roy Williams.
“For me, the last three years have been difficult,” Williams said. “For us it's more difficult than anyone else, because we recruit the elite of the elite. If you have a wart, the elite of the elite looks somewhere else.”
The LAST thing the Tar Heels franchise needs is to have those blemishes when it comes to recruiting, particularly with rival superpower Duke is just a few miles down the road.
For a program that has been able to literally pick the very best fruit from the vine, Coach Williams and the boys are treading in dangerous waters. Not only the Blue Devils, but every other power school in the country, is ready to let star recruits know that things are looking bleak down in Chapel Hill.
6 Hoots Helps Out
In 2007, when Eric Hoots (Pictured Center) was a video coordinator for UNC-Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball team, he began giving student-athletes a helping hand. Only, it may have been more help than was withing the NCAA guidelines.
Messages that Hoots forwarded to Deborah Crowder, who was the office manager for the African and Afro-American Studies department. “Thanks for the help,” he wrote. “I will see you soon...”
Crowder has now become front and center in the academic scandal surrounding at least three of the school's athletic programs, including men's basketball.
More e-mails soon surfaced between, Hoots, Crowder and UNC student-athletes that seem to corroborate the notion of cheating. Some of these documents were revealed as recently as December 2016, all while Hoots continued to deny any misdoings.
Critics of the situation say UNC and Hoots should have been more forthcoming. Many alumni and fans believe that the deception only adds to the investigators' speculation.
“It looks bad, and if people see it, given our track record, they are going to assume it’s bad,” said Burley Mitchell, member of the UNC system Board of Governors.
5 A Former Guard Comes Forward
Rashad McCants, the second-leading scorer on the North Carolina's 2004-05 title team, told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" tutors wrote multiple term papers for him. McCants also said that only attended around half of his scheduled courses.
The former starting Tar Heel guard also said that he knows he only remained able to play because he took bogus classes designed to keep him eligible.
McCants stated to "Outside the Lines" that there was 'no way' he could have been eligible to play during the championship season had he not been provided the assistance. McCants said that the coaching staff was not only aware of the situation, but actually encouraged him to take easier courses.
Courses which, for all intents and purposes, didn't lead to McCants having any chance to actually earn a degree.
4 DEFIANCE in the Face of the NCAA
On October 25, 2016, the university reveals public documents that show that the NCAA has looked at the various arguments the university is using to defend itself in the academic scandal and found "each without merit."
During this phase of investigations, the NCAA charged North Carolina with five violations, including a lack of institutional control and failing to sufficiently monitor its academic support program for athletes The NCAA report scolded UNC poor oversight that allowed the tutoring program to run unchecked for years.
UNC responded rather boldly, stating that the NCAA does not govern academic issues. However, the NCAA responds that it does have jurisdiction because the allegations are "tethered directly to athletes and how the un-monitored athletics department uses anomalous courses in a manner different from the student body in violation of NCAA rules."
In its response, the NCAA charges that the "willful violations" create an exception to the normal statute of limitations. Carolina officials continue to make the case that they have not lost institutional control.
3 The Third Time... Not a Charm
Thanks to investigative research by the Raleigh News and Observer and reporter Dan Kane, the case remained alive, which has forced the university and the NCAA to continue to dig deeper into academic improprieties.
Just as the veracity of UNC's response to the second notice had come into question, with the local newspaper stoking the fire.The university continues to battle challenges, despite the fact that more allegations stemming from the tutoring program.
The NCAA Committee of Infractions sends a request to the NCAA Enforcement Staff asking them to 'revisit' allegations specifically targeting football and men's basketball.
More stories resurface of the "academic" being more of an academic risk for student-athletes. According to statements, the school used a lower level curriculum to expand their competitive advantage.
2 Dreaming of the Days of Dean
The February 12, 2016, issue of The New York Times features an acclaimed story by Joe Nocera discusses the history of the Tar Heels under Dean Smith. In the account, Nocera discusses the contrast between the Carolina program today, and the highly-respected era of their most beloved coach.
As the piece picked apart the differences between yesterday and today, it was not only a study in how far the UNC program has fallen, but amateur athletics in general. The piece discussed the 'shadow' still cast by Smith's glowing reputation... one that has been hard for others to follow, apparently.
Perhaps more stinging was that the article appeared in the Times on the week of the first anniversary of Dean Smith’s death. The legendary former coach collected 879 wins and two national championships in a storied career, and was lauded in the article for “the lives he touched and the impact he left.”
1 Not Out of the Carolina Woods Just Yet...
Just weeks ago, the NCAA sent another Notice of Allegations marking the third in UNC’s multi-year academic scandal. Which is where the program currently stands today.
Essentially, it's gotten to the point where SOME sanctions are going to have to be handed down on the program. The school as a whole has lost a ton of credibility in the wake of a public relations debacle. And in turn, the NCAA would have egg on its face if it doesn't step in and make a statement.
As far as Roy Williams is concerned, his future appears safe at this point. But the fact that Williams, a favorite son who returned to Carolina in 2003 after a monstrous run at Kansas, has even been mentioned as being on the hot seat is alarming.
It's a sign of how far the mighty can fall: The now not-so-mighty Tar Heels feel the heat of the hot seat for the first time ever.
For a few years, they've been able to keep much of the ugly story under control. They probably don't want the rest of the world to see just how much dirt laundry they still have left lying around.