In NCAA rules scandals, there should be a hierarchy of transgressions. Actions taken to gain athletic advantage that compromise a university's academic integrity are far worse than violations of the NCAA's unrealistic concepts of amateurism.
To reach into the University of Kentucky's scandal history for examples, whatever allegedly happened with Eric Manuel's ACT score to earn the basketball player immediate eligibility was far more problematic than the money allegedly sent to the father of Chris Mills in an air freight envelope.
Whatever was going on in Claude Bassett's allegedly bogus "study halls" for Kentucky football players was far more serious than the money order allegedly sent to the Memphis high school football coach of players UK was recruiting.
Which brings us to North Carolina.
The long-percolating scandal involving UNC and "sham" courses in the school's Department of African and Afro-American Studies — that included a significant number of athletes — reached a tipping point late last month.
Conducting an investigation for the university, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein reported that, from 1993 through 2011, more than 3,100 UNC students took classes that did not require attendance.
The courses featured no oversight from a professor and asked only that students write a single term paper. Almost all the students who turned in the papers received either A's or B's — regardless of the quality of their work.
Of those enrolled in the sham classes, Wainstein said 48 percent — almost 1,500 — were North Carolina athletes. North Carolina men's basketball players apparently accounted for more than 200 of the enrollments in the "paper classes" from '93 through 2011.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, UNC men's hoops players were responsible for 54 enrollments in sham classes under Dean Smith (1993-97), 17 under Bill Guthridge (1997-2000), 42 under Matt Doherty (2000-03), and 117 under current Tar Heels head man Roy Williams (2003-11).
Ten members of North Carolina's 2005 championship team listed African and Afro-American Studies as their academic major.
When the woman running the sham AFAM courses was set to retire in 2009, counselors from North Carolina's Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes were so alarmed, they produced a power-point presentation for the UNC football coaching staff:
"We put (athletes) in classes that met degree requirements in which: They didn't go to class; They didn't take notes or have to stay awake; They didn't have to meet with professors; They didn't have to pay attention or necessarily engage with the material."
Emphasizing the big change being created by the expected ending of the "paper classes," the academic counselors ended their presentation with "THESE NO LONGER EXIST."
The allegations of academic fraud at North Carolina are so broad and went on for so long, there is a school of thought emerging that it is the most egregious college sports scandal of all time (the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky child abuse case is in a category that transcends sports).
Those with a penchant for Schadenfreude will have a hard time containing glee at North Carolina's shame. Across the decades, no school has more loudly tooted its own horn over "doing things the right way" and having the proper balance between academic excellence and athletics success.
Turns out, "The Carolina Way" was more phony than a counterfeit check.
During the troubled reign of NCAA President Mark Emmert, the enforcement capacity of the college sports governing body has shriveled away. In the North Carolina case, we'll see if NCAA justice has any teeth left.
If it can be determined that phony grades were the reason Tar Heels athletes were eligible to play in specific games, any UNC wins derived from the use of players who otherwise would have been ineligible should be vacated.
No NCAA men's basketball tournament champion has ever been forced to relinquish its title for rules violations. North Carolina won three NCAA men's hoops titles — 1993, 2005, 2009 — during the "sham class" era.
Should it turn out that national title games are among the contests impacted by the use of ineligible players by North Carolina, the NCAA needs to vacate those titles and order UNC to take those championship banners down.