Jay Smith, a published writer and history professor at UNC, spoke with C-SPAN last week to discuss the University academic-athletic scandal, which came to a close 2017. Smith’s C-SPAN interview will air on Jan. 18 to 19 as part of a special feature on Chapel Hill focusing on the literary life and history of the town.
In 2015 Jay Smith released "Cheated," a book he co-authored with Mary Willingham that chronicles the 2010 academic scandal that marred Tar Heel athletics' reputation. A revised and expanded edition of the book, including a new epilogue, will be officially published Nov. 1, according to Smith.
"We wanted to be able to go back to the book, first published in March 2015, and finish the story of the UNC scandal and its aftermath," Smith said in an email interview.
Sports have long been an important part of UNC's culture, Smith said. When the academic scandal was uncovered nearly 10 years ago, it was a shock to many.
“I think we all convinced ourselves that a scandal of this kind could not happen at UNC,” Smith said, working as a history professor when the scandal arose. "It was a difficult time."
In "Cheated," Smith and Willingham explain the extent of fraud in UNC’s athletic department, noting that administrators and faculty allowed it occur. In the book, Willingham and Smith make the argument that student-athletes were victims of the fraud, cheated out of a full college education.
Smith said he and Willingham thought the book would be the only opportunity to compile a full chronicle of what happened at the University and make clear the scandal's magnitude.
The scandal began in the summer of 2010 when a former UNC defensive lineman, Marvin Austin, posted a tweet alluding to receiving bottle service at a Miami club. The NCAA opened an investigation to determine if UNC athletes were receiving impermissible benefits.
“Many revelations unspooled from that body-blow and by the end of that summer. It was clear there was a major academic scandal here,” said Smith.
A report published by independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein, released in 2014, stated that thousands of students were involved.
“The University was willing to concede that this fraud had occurred, but for the longest time they wanted to deny that athletics was the driver in any way of the scandal," Smith said. “That’s what drove my anger, because it was so clear that they were involved in a long time cover-up of how the system worked between that department and the academic advising in athletics.”
To this day, Smith says that no one has the full picture of who knew about which parts of the scandal, who acted for what reasons, or whether the University has truly corrected the culture that led to it.
Emerson Porter, a junior at the Kenan-Flagler Business School and athlete on the UNC track and field team, said she and her teammates do not take any easy classes.
“Time management is the key to balancing our busy schedules, along with school,” Porter said. “My classes are hard but we find time between classes effectively so we can manage all we have to do.”
Smith teaches a history course, Big-Time College Sports and the Rights of Athletes, 1874 to the Present, that teaches students about the evolution of college sports in America, the formation of the NCAA and the rights of student-athletes. The question of whether student-athletes should receive some form of benefits for their athletic abilities is also something Smith discusses in his course.
California passed a law in September allowing college athletes to profit from endorsements, a law which, if followed by other states, Smith says, will collapse the NCAA's business model.
“The brute fact is that we are exploiting them, their labor and their bodies while they are on our campus for four years," Smith said. "And if they are not being paid while they are here and they're not gonna get great pay days later and we’re not educating them properly, I would say that is not a victimless crime but rather an exploitative system that universities should not be engaged in."
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