My first reaction to former Tar Heel Rashad McCants' accusations about "no-show" classes at UNC-Chapel Hill was that McCants never had any credibility, anyway. ESPN gave McCants, who failed to make it in the NBA after leaving UNC early after the team's 2005 national championship, asserted that he was steered to easy African-American Studies classes to keep him eligible to play basketball
I have little doubt that McCants was encouraged to take easier classes at UNC. The academic support system is designed to keep student-athletes eligible for NCAA play and on track toward getting a degree. But recommending an easier class load to someone who is failing classes hardly seems sinister; it is being realistic about a student's capabilities or his determination and persistence.
When I was at UNC, there were no African-American Studies classes for weak students to hide behind, but there were classes that were rumored to be easier than others, just as there were classes that were rumored to be harder than others. Students have always sought easier classes, outside their major, to fill their schedules. In the harder classes category were organic chemistry and statistics. In the easier category was speech. Football players joked about how they did in speech class, so I took speech one semester as a sophomore. It sounded interesting, and I could have used a less demanding class to fill my schedule. That "easy" class resulted in my lowest grade I received at UNC, a C-. It turned out the class was not as easy as I had imagined it might be, and I was nervous standing before a class and delivering a speech, which was what we did in that class.
I also took a couple of classes on a pass-fail basis. I don't know whether pass-fail remains an option, but in the late 1960s, it was heralded as an egalitarian concept of higher education. You either passed or failed, and neither result affected your grade point average. I took the classes my senior year, thinking I would be able to "slide" through my final year by not having to work so hard in those classes. I passed with as little work as I could get by with.
Non of this is meant to excuse the AF-AM classes that didn't meet and provided athletes (and others) inflated grades. They remain an embarrassing stain on the university's academic reputation. But the students who benefited from these easier classes knew what was happening. They were trying to avoid dismissal for failure to maintain a minimum grade point average. When I was in school, we had added incentive to maintain decent grades (a 2.0 or C average). If we were dismissed from school, we'd lose our draft exemption and our local draft board would be calling. That's a more serious consequence than failing to make the cut in the NBA.