Last month, Rashad McCants, a former University of North Carolina (UNC) men’s basketball player, said in an interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he took “paper classes” at UNC and wasn’t required to attend class. He also accused his head coach, Roy Williams, of knowing his players were taking scam courses.
As a former UNC graduate and lifelong Carolina basketball fan, I was drawn to this story about my alma mater because it potentially presented a major on-going media issue to the university. How would the basketball program, in particular Coach Williams, respond in the media to McCants’ allegations? And ultimately, what impact would the allegations have on athletics and the university, if any?
Immediately, rumors surfaced this was a publicity stunt McCants designed to promote his upcoming book – a tell-all of his basketball career − although he claims it was “for the kids…” Whatever his motivations, there are lessons to be learned from how UNC has handled this issue to date.
1. Quick response to allegations. Within hours of McCants’ remarks, Bubba Cunningham, UNC’s director of athletics, and Coach Williams released statements. Their comments encompassed the UNC basketball program as a whole rather than the experience of individual players. They contrasted heavily with McCants’ account of his college experience and were released in a timely fashion, pre-empting potential allegations UNC might have something to hide.
2. Proactive Investigation. Prior to McCants’ claims, UNC hired former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein in January to conduct an independent investigation into past academic and athletic irregularities. Following his accusations, the university reached out to McCants to setup an interview with Mr. Wainstein so he could address his concerns within the context of Mr. Wainstein’s larger review. McCants has refused to speak. His refusal appears to be a contrary action by someone trying to make genuine change for the student-athlete. This has only increased speculation his allegations are unfounded.
3. Building a coalition of supporters. Former players have publicly opposed McCants’ allegations and rushed to Coach Williams’ defense. They referred to McCants as a “loner” off the court and claimed their experience at UNC differed markedly from what he described. This loose coalition, telling a substantially different account of their college athletic careers, has greatly assisted in diminishing McCants’ credibility.
While still a college player, McCants once compared playing for UNC like being in jail. At the time, people turned their heads and rolled their eyes, which is what a majority of people are doing now due to his history of extreme remarks. Another case in point: Most recently, McCants made headlines for making an outrageous claim that the NCAA owes him $300M and UNC owes him $10M, further weakening his “paper-thin” credibility.