Former North Carolina star Rashad McCants said in an interview with ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" that tutors at the school wrote his term papers and he remained eligible because he took bogus classes — corroborating allegations of academic fraud at UNC first made public in 2011.
McCants, who was the Tar Heels’ second-leading scorer during the team’s 2004-05 championship season, said in the report he may have been academically ineligible that season had he not received assistance and that coach Roy Williams knew of the "paper-class" system at the school. Those classes reportedly had no attendance requirement and required students only to write one term paper to earn class credit.
McCants said after he earned two A’s in African-American studies classes and F’s in algebra and psychology in the 2004 fall semester, Williams informed him of the academic issues prior to the start of the spring semester.
"There was a slight panic on my part … (he) said, ‘You know, we’re going to be able to figure out how to make it happen, but you need to buckle down on your academics,’" McCants said of Williams, per the ESPN report.
He also noted that Williams said: "We’re going to be able to change a class from, you know, your summer session class and swap it out with the class that you failed, just so the GPA could reflect that you are in good standing."
"I strongly disagree with what Rashad has said," Williams said in a statement Friday. "In no way did I know about or do anything close to what he says and I think the players whom I have coached over the years will agree with me.
"I have spent 63 years on this earth trying to do things the right way and the picture he portrays is not fair to the University or me."
Copies of two transcripts (one stamped as unofficial, but both noting the same grades) reportedly show McCants received one A grade in an African-American studies class in the summer of 2004. McCants then enrolled in four African-American studies classes in the spring semester, and got all A’s.
McCants was known for being mercurial during his time in Chapel Hill and even angered the school’s fans when he equated UNC with being in jail during one local TV interview that drew national media coverage, saying, "You’re not allowed to do certain things, you’re not allowed to say certain things." He later said those comments were misinterpreted.
While former UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham told "Outside the Lines" that she believes McCants’ allegations, Tar Heels AD Bubba Cunningham was not of similar mind.
"It is disappointing any time a student is dissatisfied with his or her experience," Cunningham reportedly said in a statement. "I welcome the opportunity to speak with Rashad McCants about returning to UNC to continue his academic career — just as we have welcomed many former student-athletes interested in completing their degrees.
"The university hired former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein in January to conduct an independent investigation into past academic and athletic irregularities. While these are the first allegations we have heard from Mr. McCants, I encourage him to speak with Mr. Wainstein. …
"I have gotten to know some of Mr. McCants’ teammates, and I know that claims about their academic experience have affected them deeply. They are adamant that they had a different experience at UNC-Chapel Hill than has been portrayed by Mr. McCants and others."
Meanwhile, former UNC players reacted negatively to McCants and his account on Twitter:
Sixteen players from North Carolina’s 2005 national championship team issued the following statement in response to McCants’ allegations:
McCants said in the report that he is coming forward now to make sure something like this doesn’t happen in the future.
"It’s about my kids, about your kids. It’s about their kids. It’s about knowing the education that I received and knowing that something needs to change," McCants said, per "Outside the Lines." "This has nothing to do with the Carolina fans or the Carolina program. It has everything to do with the system, and Carolina just so happened to be a part of the system and they participated in the system, so in retrospect, you have to look at it and say, ‘Hey, you know what you did wrong.’
"Stand up. It’s time for everybody to really just be accountable."
McCants says he also plans to write a book about his college and basketball experiences. He played four years in the NBA after three at UNC, then also played overseas.
McCants’ comments are the latest allegations levied against UNC in an academic fraud scandal that began as an offshoot of an NCAA investigation into the football program beginning in summer 2010. Those findings centered on the formerly named Department of African and Afro-American Studies, most notably with lecture classes featuring significant athlete enrollments that did not meet and were instead treated as independent study courses requiring only a research paper at semester’s end.
Willingham, who has questioned the literacy of Tar Heel athletes, has said "paper classes" were designed to keep players eligible despite many reading at below-grade levels.
The fraud findings also unauthorized grade changes and possibly forged signatures on grade rolls.
By 2012, an investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found the problems in the AFAM department ran back at least to the late 1990s. That probe found no evidence of athletic department involvement, though another probe led by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein is underway.