Who Failed the Player?

Aug 2nd, 2011
by Robert F. Orr

RALEIGH -- All the recent platitudes emanating from the leadership at UNC about their concern over "academic integrity" have a slightly hollow ring. A close look at the facts shows that the recent firing of football coach Butch Davis is tinged with a heavy dose of hypocrisy. Academically, who really is at fault?

Carolina football fans tired of mediocre teams, losses to the likes of Furman and consistently being in the middle of the football-focused expanded ACC wanted change. And the leadership of the university wanted change out of a concern that the cash cow that passes for big-time college athletics was failing to produce the financial rewards lusted after by the school and its dominatrix, the NCAA.

So loyal alum John Bunting got the boot and the UNC leadership went after Butch Davis. Davis didn't ask for the job. UNC begged him to take it and paid him royally to accept. Davis' job was to bring in big-time college football talent to make UNC a winner and fill the coffers of the university. Davis was well on the way to fulfilling those expectations - a new stadium expansion, high-profile NFL draftees from the program and more players' jerseys for UNC to sell.

To accomplish this in a highly competitive football environment, Davis had to recruit the best football talent available. And if some of that talent was, shall we say, academically challenged, then the UNC administration would take care of that.

That leads us to Michael McAdoo, a talented football player from Tennessee who would blend seamlessly into the Davis concept of fast, agile defensive players. McAdoo didn't ask to come to UNC. He wasn't one of those thousands of high school seniors with a lifelong dream of going to Chapel Hill. No, Michael McAdoo was recruited to UNC with the promise that Butch Davis would help turn him into an NFL prospect and the university academics would do everything possible to help him be successful in his schoolwork.

Normally, McAdoo would never have been admitted to UNC as an out-of-state student, except for his football talent. At the Honor Court hearing on the academic violations leveled against him, an academic counselor set forth in a letter an explanation about "the amount Mr. McAdoo had to overcome in order to play football and obtain an education at UNC-Chapel Hill."

At the Appeals Hearing before the NCAA, McAdoo testified, "For me it was a struggle because I needed somebody to really explain and break down the information to me." He then added, "We have to trust employees and staff on this university to keep up with a lot of this information and guide us through our experiences. This is why I came here to UNC. I trusted I would have a great, caring people who were smart and would help guide me through this university."

Now after an Honor Court conviction dealing with one paper and the onslaught of media allegations that the Honor Court, UNC and the NCAA had somehow overlooked plagiarism issues with the paper, McAdoo is an outcast. He's permanently barred from ever participating in college sports. UNC and the NCAA publicly labeled him a cheater and guilty of academic fraud. The evidence, however, shows an academically struggling freshman gamely trying to understand and fulfill the nuances of university-level writing requirements - not some clever, academically talented student attempting to fabricate his way through a lengthy writing assignment.

I submit that in all of this Butch Davis kept his part of the deal, as has Michael McAdoo. At the NCAA Appeal Hearing, McAdoo plaintively told the panel, "I just want to explain that I never tried to break any rules or take unfair assistance from anyone. I am an honest person and never been in trouble while attending UNC. All I want to be is a successful student."

The people who admitted McAdoo, provided a tutoring program and promised to make sure he would be able to do the challenging work that a university degree would and should require, failed him. Yes, he made mistakes and has been held responsible. Ultimately, though it wasn't the coach's job to make sure McAdoo was successful in the classroom. It was the chancellor and the very academic community that has so roundly cheered the coach's firing who had that responsibility.

Harry Truman had the saying on his desk "The Buck Stops Here." I don't think it stops at Butch Davis.

Robert F. Orr, formerly a justice on the state Supreme Court, does not represent Michael McAdoo but has discussed legal issues involved in the matter with McAdoo's attorneys. He wrote this piece in his individual capacity and not as executive director of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law.



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