On Tuesday, Outside the Lines broadcast a piece on the academic scandal unfolding at North Carolina, which according to a whistleblower funneled athletes into sham classes with minimal standards and workloads. The internet's big takeaway was this screengrab of one athlete's final paper, which reportedly received an A-minus.
(And the lack of a closing quotation mark is provoking OCD tendencies I didn't know I had. I want to reach through my screen and fix it and let Rosa Parks find peace.)
Let's see if we can't find common ground by stating that this paper, its grade, and the diploma mill that was UNC's African and Afro-American Studies department are all affronts to the stated mission of a college education. Are we in agreement on that, at least? Good, because how you react to the paper's existence is a pretty perfect litmus test for where you fall in the grander debate about college athletics.
On one hand, many (most?) people will point the finger at UNC for a joke of a program clearly designed to keep athletes eligible when they would otherwise fail out. It's a clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of college sports, and is deserving of strong NCAA sanctions. UNC deserves blame for trying to cheat the system, and the athletes for skating to a degree without putting in any work.
The other side will argue that the system is at fault. That the NCAA's amateurism model is a joke that invites exploitation, encouraging schools to bend rules to enroll teenagers who everyone understands are here just for their athletic abilities. They are compensated only with a college education, which, even when it's on the up-and-up, is something many of them don't want, need, or qualify for. The money's in sports, and to keep that money flowing and the best athletes coming, of course schools are going to pull shit like this. The athletes themselves are just pawns in a scheme that's making other people very rich.
I don't make much of a secret where I fall in this debate, but it's a good one to have. The paper above, and the thousands of similar quality that are given passing grades every semester at this nation's football and basketball powerhouses—are they indictments of individual student-athletes and individual programs, or of the historical anomaly that sees amateur sports illogically welded to higher education?