College sports are big business and basketball is no different. Recent data suggests that the NCAA earned over $870 million between 2011 and 2012 alone. With such earnings, student-athletes ought to receive compensation in the form of what they came to college for in the first place — education. However, recent developments at the University of North Carolina (UNC) indicate that student-athletes are not receiving the education owed to them. Former UNC athletes have launched a ferocious legal battle with the school and the NCAA, citing that they were not academically trained and prepared for the world.


For some time now, former UNC academic advisor Mary Willingham has claimed that the university implemented a “shadow curriculum,” with “exceptionally easy” courses for student athletes to receive good grades. Willingham cited a wide range of courses from geography to philosophy, and most often — drama. Good grades and cooperative staff who ensure the padding of a players GPA, guarantee that the most talented players remain eligible during the season.


Mary Willingham, former UNC academic advisor and whistle blower (

Mary Willingham, former UNC academic advisor and whistle blower (

Willingham’s claims have caused several department heads at UNC to fall under severe scrutiny and questioning — although a handful of them are asserting that their courses offer challenging work for students. In response to the lawsuit, the NCAA has maintained that they have no lawful obligation to “ensure education quality” among its student-athletes. This statement makes one wonder how widespread the problem really is; in the face of a serious controversy, the NCAA appears to be more annoyed that people have asked questions, relative to allegations that they are not doing their job. Once again, another American athletic organization puts its foot in its own mouth in the face of a PR crisis.


The time has come for a de-escalation of the NCAA money machine. We have become so caught up in the spectacle of college sports that we often forget that most of these athletes are just kids in school. Willingham referred to the UNC basketball program as a “plantation,” the imagery strikes a cord. Instead of being molded and cultivated into productive, thoughtful individuals, these students find themselves herded through irrelevant, easy classes just to please us. The phrase “student-athlete” is in that order for a reason.


Over the last month, the entire nation gathered around televisions and laptops to rejoice in the spectacle of March Madness. Do you think the NCAA’s assertion about their inability to “ensure educational quality,” will have future implications for the way in which student athletes are prepared for the game?  Sound off in the comments section below or tweet me @connerws.