Hamilton: The ‘Carolina Way’ isn’t the way — and neither is the NCAA

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Hamilton: The ‘Carolina Way’ isn’t the way — and neither is the NCAA

Perhaps the Carolina Way really is a thing.

It means blaming the media, living in the gray area of rules and refusing to admit when you’re busted. And, as of now, the Carolina Way has six national championships in men’s basketball, 20 Final Four appearances and 2,206 wins. Most notably it’s also undefeated against the NCAA.

Or at least that’s the perception after Friday’s news that the largest case of academic fraud in history will essentially go unpunished.

Seven years, more than $18 million in legal fees and thousands of hours digging resulted in the NCAA determining what we already knew: that UNC committed academic fraud through its Department of African and Afro-American Studies “paper courses.” But it couldn’t definitively prove that 18 years worth of bogus classes violated NCAA academic rules because the courses were available to all students. The only punishment the NCAA doled out was toward a pair of former administrators who didn’t cooperate with the investigation and likely won’t work in college athletics again, anyhow.

Otherwise, the NCAA grabbed a fistful of sand before closing its case.

Let the Twitterverse explode with cracks that Rick Pitino –– following the UNC model –– should quickly pay non-basketball-playing students or that Katina Powell provided her services for any Joe with a student ID. After all, as UNC contends and the NCAA supports, it’s not an extra benefit if it’s available to everyone.

That’s been UNC’s argument for the past year, or at least the defense it decided to go with when the NCAA issued its amended Notice of Allegations about 12 months ago. Yes, the school admits it fostered a program designed to help pave smoother highways to degrees. Still, the NCAA could do nothing other than agreeing that the definition of “education” is apparently subjective in Chapel Hill.

“Sometimes the behavior that you’re not proud of just doesn’t quite fit into a bylaw or a rule or something,” said UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

Then what’s the point of having bylaws or rules or something?

This calamity is further proof that the NCAA is an antiquated organization with as much power as a middle school’s student body president. Its rulebook is thicker than a phonebook and about as relevant. Schools have been punished for allowing freshmen to sleep on players’ couches before enrolling and baseball players participating in fantasy football, but we’ve yet to see NCAA take action at Baylor. Then again, the severity of the atrocities that took place in Waco were big enough to get legal entities involved.

Apparently, that’s what it takes. It was business as usual for the wink-wink, nod-nod culture surrounding shoe companies and men’s basketball until federal investigators stepped in last month. Those shenanigans will cease because the FBI, unlike the NCAA, has real power. When the feds want to speak with you, people start chirping.

When the NCAA tries to arrange an interview, it gets a one-fingered salute by an Uber driver in Kansas City, as was the case with former Louisville assistant Andre McGee.

That’s because the self-policing NCAA was effective when it was founded in 1906, though it’s merely nice in theory now. Depending upon the member institutions to monitor themselves is like leaving your car unlocked at midnight and the keys in the ignition with a $20 for gas money on the dashboard.

Because if it were the way to go, then UNC would’ve done what the NCAA couldn’t and severely punish itself. Isn’t that what its mantra is all about?

That would’ve meant erasing some history, perhaps scrubbing entire wings of its house and handicapping its own athletic fortunes. Afterward, everyone from the impotent NCAA to the ABC (“Anybody But Carolina”) army could acknowledge that UNC justly judged itself. Self-punishment with grace would’ve been a victory for the NCAA and proved that the Carolina Way is legit.

It didn’t.

Instead, it fought tooth and nail to prove that, yeah, there were some gaping holes in its academic code. But, doggone it, all of the students could take advantage of it so it doesn’t matter that more than 1,000 athletes –– including members of the 2005 and 2009 national title teams –– received unearned grades. The Carolina Way is about following the rules and –– while sad, but true –– that’s exactly what UNC did.

The blatant truth is that the Carolina Way, like the NCAA itself, is an outdated credo that grew irrelevant with each excuse, a message that has diluted annually to the point of being merely a saying that looked cool on T-shirts, caps and book jackets. And it’s as much of a sham as dozens of UNC athletes’ transcripts.

Most unsettling, however, is that the door is now ripped off the hinges for others to emulate the real Carolina Way. And who’s gonna stop them?

Follow Scott Hamilton on Twitter: @ScottH_Sports




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