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Why you should consider Mary Willingham a Hero

With no Mary Willingham, UNC's rampant academic fraud may have been swept under the rug in the public eye, just as the NCAA has tried to do with their impending wrist slap.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

We all know about the UNC academic scandal and the lackadaisical effort on the NCAA’s part to separate the academics from the athletics. Ms. Willingham and Dane Kane of the Raleigh News and Observer have been vilified and demonized by the UNC fan base. You have to ask if it is warranted.

The NCAA's most recent Notice of Allegations (NOA) makes no mention of the Tar Heel basketball program or football program, mentioning only the women's basketball program specifically. The UNC fan base has breathed a collective sigh of relief. What they overlook, however, is the Lack of Institutional Control charge.

What is Lack of Institutional Control? Here's the NCAA's definition which really doesn't define the term:

The term "institutional control" sounds ominous, perhaps because it is the core of the expression that is at the core of the worst of NCAA violations: "lack of institutional control."

But institutional control itself is a good and essential concept that links varsity athletics programs with higher education. Without it, any college athletics program is not much more than a bunch of kids playing games.

Leave it to a bureaucracy to give a definition without defining. You can read their "definition" by clicking the LINK.  Perhaps a better understanding of the term can be found  over at SBNation in an article by Craig Powers relating to the Miami football scandal and several others: Explaining the NCAA's 'lack of institutional control' charge against Miami.

One thing you can surmise is that this charge is the NCAA's most serious accusation and can lead to a death penalty or a slap on the wrist. The charge can also result in a "Show Cause" penalty placed on coaches.

So who is Mary Willingham and what did she have to do with the UNC scandal in Chapel Hill? I'll let Dan Kane at The Raleigh News & Observer tell you about Mary Willingham. By clicking on her name, you'll find out who she is and how she was treated by UNC.  Ms. Willingham wrote this thesis Academics & Athletics -€” A Clash of Cultures: Division I Football Programs. (2009)

Mary Willingham left UNC after the 2014 spring semester.  In June of 2014, she filed suit against UNC:

According to the Raleigh News and Observer, Willingham filed a 25-page complaint in the Wake County Superior Court. She alleges she had been the subject of a hostile work environment for three years, ever since she began speaking with the newspaper.

UNC decided to settle and she accepted. To understand her reasoning, read this CNN report from 3/17/15. You should note that CNN ended their article with this:

Willingham is co-founder of Paper Class Inc., which serves as a portal and rallying point for the college sports reform movement and includes a program to give students reading help in middle school.

So why should she be considered a hero? Maybe this youtube video will convince you.

As sports fans, we tend to shoot the messenger when bad news arrives at our collective doorsteps. We see UNC fans doing this and we see Louisville fans doing the same. If you're old enough to remember the Kentucky basketball scandal from the 1950's and again under the Cliff Hagan and Eddie Sutton regimes, the BBN did the same.  I suppose it is human nature to shoot the messenger because we see it in almost all aspects of our lives. Mary Willingham has risen above that while others have succumbed to the hatred for whistle blowing.

Post Scripts:

Number 1

I ran this article by Mary for an accuracy check. Here's her response.

Thank you. I read your proposed article. It's accurate. However I don't think of myself as a hero but rather an ordinary person trying to fix something that's broken.

The litigation in play has both UNC and the NCAA scrambling. I think that Coach Hatchell will file a lawsuit as well. Many expensive lawyers are on the payroll these days. Meanwhile our profit sport athletes (many black and poor) are still not getting the education that we promise them in exchange for their talent. I agree that we could easily correct this system.

Have a nice weekend.


Number 2

The latest development:

Former UNC-CH faculty leader Jan Boxill refutes NCAA allegations against her