The Martin report, an examination of the alleged abuse at the University of North Carolina both athletically and academically, landed with a thud, not an explosion, when it was released on Dec. 20.
The report, which was led by Jim Martin, a former North Carolina governor, U.S. congressman and chemistry professor at Davidson College, found that there was “no athletic scandal” at UNC, but that there were “serious anomalies” in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies that dated all the way back to 1997.
A single professor, who is now being investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation, was involved, according to the report. It found that courses were not rigorous, grades were inflated and sometimes changed without proper protocol — and that all students, not just athletes, were the beneficiaries — if that is the correct characterization — of the lack of oversight.
None of this is to argue that there were no problems in athletics, but they were limited to a handful or more of football players who went rogue, accepting illegal benefits from agents or posers, and an assistant football coach who has been the subject of many allegations, none of which have been proven.
For all that, UNC and its football program have paid a high price: All of the football staff, including head coach Butch Davis, were fired, although none have been found guilty of wrongdoing during investigations by the NCAA, UNC and now Martin; the program was stripped of scholarships, placed on three years of probation, and the 2012 team, the champion of the ACC’s Coastal Division, was banned from post-season play; wins were vacated from previous years; some players forfeited eligibility, and others were suspended for a limited number of games; the longtime athletic director took one for the team and resigned; and Chancellor Holden Thorp will leave in the middle of next year.
UNC officials say steps have been taken to inoculate the university against future abuse, both academically and athletically.
As Martin announced the findings, critics who have seemed willing during the last two and a half years to believe the worst — including media outlets that fed readers and listeners information that has now been largely debunked — could hardly disguise their disappointment, suggesting the report was not comprehensive and raised more questions than it answered. They wanted to know why more coaches and players were not interviewed. Martin noted that he had the information gathered when coaches and players were interviewed by UNC and the NCAA, which has deemed itself satisfied and has shown no interest in returning to the Chapel Hill campus to kick over more rocks.
Martin and consultants skilled in academic investigations spent months looking over fresh territory, examining all 172,580 course sections with undergraduate students enrolled from the fall 1994 term through the 2012 summer term while looking at nearly 13,000 instructors and 119,000 students.
Martin spoke clearly, saying that no coaches steered players toward the African and Afro-American courses as a way to keep them eligible for competition, and that athletes in no way were given favor by any coach or instructor, including the one now targeted by the SBI.
The Martin report runs counter to the 30-month narrative, one that UNC officials did little to refute; instead, they took an accommodating posture and provided what was sought, content to allow the investigation to lead where it would.
The biggest blow, one that can’t be wiped away even with the testimony of the Martin report, is that the academic and athletics reputations of the state’s flagship institution, heretofore stellar, have been tarnished — and that was done unfairly.
The Martin report should be good news for all North Carolinians who favor academic integrity, regardless of for whom they cheer on Saturdays. Ridiculously, that hasn’t been the case.