Okay, this is long and I go off on some tangents but I bring it back together in the end for any that is interested.
Academic fraud happens in some way, shape, or form at all universities with major college athletics. That is not to excuse UNC, or any others, but it is just a fact. Blaming the kids for not taking advantage of their opportunity, or the school for pushing and sometimes passing the line to keep their players eligible ignores bigger problems.
The fact of the matter is that many of these kids do not have the ability to take advantage of this opportunity. Many like to simply blame the kids for this, and sometimes they are to blame, but the fact is that it is largely our fault as a society. Simply put, our education system is pathetic. On the one side you have the unions, whose purpose is to serve and protect teachers. The longest tenured ones, not the best, are the ones that are the most protected. On the other side you have the administrations, where their sole concern is the bottom line. In the middle you have the politicians, many of whom have not worked with kids a day in their life telling the teachers and districts what and how to teach and treating each child like some sort of identical robot that learns the same way at the same pace.
Through all of this, the one group of people that the system is designed to serve gets ignored. Preparing the kids for college and their future lives is secondary to how well they can take a test. If a child is not ready for the next grade they are often given a social promotion, because who cares if they are ready for the rest of their lives as long as they do not feel inadequate when compared to their peers, right? I taught fifth grade for three years and often had kids come to me with a first and second grade reading level. I was expected to teach them fifth grade Science, Social Studies, etc. from a book that was written on a fifth grade level. How can they be expected to learn that? This says nothing about their trying to keep up in reading. But they keep getting promoted because people refuse to accept that some learn slower that others.
This brings me back to the colleges. Many of these kids have been failed by a broken education system and are not even close to the point where they can be expected to take advantage of their opportunity. Yet we tell them that if they cannot do what for many is impossible they cannot play football/basketball. They are blessed with this talent yet we tell them that they cannot take advantage of it unless they do a job that we have failed to prepare them for. There really is no other realistic option for them.
The fact is that one of two things needs to happen. The first option is that we can completely revamp the NCAA for football and basketball. They should not be the big money machines that they are. Model the sports after baseball where their is a legitimate minor league system for those that are the most talented and/or those for whom college is simply not for them. On the college side of things this route should be reserved for those that actually want to be student athletes. I read an article a few months ago about the MIT football team. They are only allowed to practice from 5pm-7pm, the rest of the time is for them to be students. This should be mandated across the board. If you want to be a student first, go to college, if you want to be an athlete first, go to the minors.
The other option is that we keep everything the same and we admit that some of these kids are not college material. This requires that we give up on making sure they are "academically eligible," and then blowing a gasket when they cheat because they have no other options if they want to keep pursuing their natural talents.
Yes, I am a UNC fan, but I have felt this way before and I will again, regardless of the university. People make billions of dollars on these kids and they are appalled when they want a piece. The kids are set up to fail academically and society is stunned when they cheat. For many of them, athletics is the one thing they are truly successful at, and it is wrong to tell them they cannot pursue it.
It is time to either give them other options to pursue and develop their talent or start properly preparing them for college and financially compensating them fairly. Until then they can take whatever "improper benefits" they want, fail whatever classes they wish, and do whatever they can to stay academically eligible. As long as they are not involved in criminal activity where there are actual victims then I do not give a crap and I want them on the field/court.