On Friday, the NCAA finally handed down a ruling on UNC’s paper classes. Despite speculation to the contrary, no titles were vacated, no post-season ban was levied and no scholarship limitations were placed. For all intents and purposes, UNC got off scot-free from one of the biggest athletic scandals of the last 20 years.
Which is fine, I guess. As a fan of UNC men’s basketball, it’s great. It makes following recruiting exciting, March games likely and ensures that we will have one of the most talented rosters in the country. As a fan of UNC, it was sad in the way that a lot of news about UNC is sad. It represented the best outcome for UNC, in a story of constantly lowered expectations. At my most optimistic, I think of UNC as an aspirational idea, where the best is always on the horizon. In these moments UNC is always about what it can be.
The first public university in the United States constantly trying to more truly represent the public. A basketball powerhouse where integrity and on-court success are consistently prioritized in tandem. A home for southern progressivism where the front line forms against racism, censorship and poverty. Legendary figures like Franklin Porter Graham, Bill Friday and Dean Smith help prop up this vision.
In my more dour moments, I wonder why I always feel the need to look back to justify my optimism. In these moments I question the mental leeway I give the heroes of the past. I don’t see UNC as it might be, but rather as a series of depressing headlines.
A public university with a student and faculty population much whiter than the state that will not take down a Jim Crow-era monument to the Confederacy. A scandal-rocked basketball program that got off because it had good lawyers and did not commit the ultimate sin of actually paying revenue generating athletes. A home for conservative experimentation where the newest restrictions on student speech can be advanced.