UK Men's Basketball

Cloud of scandal turns 'Carolina Way' into depressing punch line for UNC

Art Chansky, University of North Carolina graduate and author of three books on iconic Tar Heels coach Dean Smith, looked out a window Thursday. He liked what he saw.

"The sky is unbelievably clear blue," he said in a telephone conversation.

Carolina Blue, you might say.

"But," Chansky added, "there seems to be a little cloud every day hanging over something that we're all anxious for it to pass."

Of course, that cloud is the result of a very public — and ongoing — hanging of dirty athletic laundry. Investigations, most notably by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein, have detailed a scheme at North Carolina to keep primarily football and basketball athletes academically eligible through bogus classes. In his report released this fall, Wainstein noted a "glaring" lack of oversight at UNC.

Chancellor Carol Folt called the bogus classes, which reportedly began in 1993 and continued until 2011, an "inexcusable betrayal of values."

The Carolina Way, a catchphrase that long evoked pride among UNC fans, took on new meaning.

"It's gone from our nomenclature," Chansky said of The Carolina Way label. "Nobody I know with Carolina uses it anymore. A lot of people throw it in your face. It's a punch line, now."

North Carolina officials and fans now wait to see what happens with an NCAA investigation that follows probes by the Raleigh News & Observer, a UNC faculty panel, the State Bureau of Investigation, the Orange County district attorney, a management and consulting firm hired by UNC and led by former governor Jim Martin, a UNC Board of Governors' special panel, Wainstein and three "outside experts" hired by the school.

Media reports came from such entities as The New York Times, ESPN, CNN and The Colbert Report.

"Extremely embarrassing," said Brick Oettinger, who retired in April after working for the UNC education system for 40 years.

"Really embarrassing to all of us," said former Sports Illustrated senior writer Curry Kirkpatrick (class of 1965).

In a column posted on the website last week, Chansky wrote, "The brand we've loved and boasted about for years has been battered into submission."

UNC basketball coach Roy Williams could not be reached for comment. In late October, he said, "We've made some mistakes for a long time. It's a very sad time for us."

Williams said he became uncomfortable following the 2004-05 season with his players "clustering" in the same major. He said he instituted changes.

Wainstein exonerated Williams, saying the coach's actions were "inconsistent with being complicit with or really trying to promote the scheme."

In late October, Williams told he was "worried sick" about the scandal.

"It hurts," he said. "I'm extremely disappointed and extremely sad because this is my school. This is dominating my time, my life and my thoughts."

During a public appearance Thursday, Williams noted the fallout had hurt recruiting. Six of the eight prospects targeted by the Tar Heels had committed to other schools, he said.

"It's painful," Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham acknowledged. But he noted that problems with the classes in question, from the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, had been addressed. The school's website notes the enactment of 70-some reforms.

What a difference five years can make. On the eve of the Kentucky-North Carolina game in 2009, Kentucky looked to restore lost luster with new coach John Calipari. North Carolina was the defending national champion and more. In a column for Basketball Times, Bob Ryan wrote of North Carolina, "No other program so clearly stands for something."

Ryan has had a change of heart.

"Am clearly let down by this entire mess," he wrote in a recent email. "Have written that had this occurred at scores of other schools, I would have shrugged. We all recognize the fallacy of 'student athleticism' at those institutions. But I wanted to believe that Carolina was above this type of fraud. Guess I was wrong.

"If this actually extends back to Dean's time, put this in the 'What? You're telling me there's no Santa Claus?' category."

Smith, who retired as UNC coach in 1997, originated "The Carolina Way" label only as a basketball term.

"What he meant by The Carolina Way was there is a way we play basketball," said Chansky (class of 1970). "We play hard. We play smart. We play together and have fun.

"Somehow, Dean Smith was such a demigod, such an iconic figure here, the university sort of adopted it as its slogan for everything. It turned into a very arrogant slogan even before the scandal broke."

Cunningham suggested the various investigations and reforms can help UNC "earn back the trust" that's been lost.

Trust can be restored, sometimes with amazing speed.

Kentucky basketball was the object of ridicule in the late 1980s. Sports Illustrated captured the moment with its "Kentucky's Shame" cover. Rick Pitino's arrival as coach in 1989 began a stunning rebirth. The Bombinos brought a rare treat to UK basketball: joy. Shame turned to lasting fame when the Cats lost to Christian Laettner and Duke in 1992.

"The cloud was over Kentucky," Kirkpatrick said. "Now, it's gone, and Carolina's kind of got the cloud."

In words that resonate with UK fans of a certain age, Chansky said, "The whole thing has been a real heartbreaking situation, certainly.

"It seems like it's a malaise. Like everybody has the flu. They don't want to get out of bed. Everybody is tired of it."

Tickets available for UCLA game in Chicago

The University of Kentucky has an allotment of tickets available for the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago on Dec. 20.

Kentucky will play UCLA at 3:30 p.m., following a game between North Carolina and Ohio State at 1 p.m. in the United Center.

Tickets for the doubleheader range in price from $80 in the upper level to $145 in the lower bowl.

Tickets may be purchased by calling 1-800-928-2287 or in person at the Joe Craft Center ticket office. Ticket office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.