University of North Carolina alumni and fans are awaiting a verdict from the NCAA a little like a man with his neck in the bottom of a guillotine. How bad will it hurt?
To punish a scandal that essentially sold out the university's integrity for success in athletics over a period of 18 years, presumably giving UNC an advantage over college teams that didn't bend the rules (wink, wink) or forgo the college's agreement to provide a college education to talented athletes willing to toil for the college's glory, what is the appropriate punishment? I'll never understand the logic behind the NCAA's inconsistent decisions, but it seems inevitable that UNC will have many, most, or all of its game victories and championship seasons negated. Roy Williams' stellar record of career basketball victories could be shoved to the bottom of the list, just as Bobby Bowden lost his place in the career victories list after a scandal at Florida State. That might be the least of the consequences.
The NCAA could go for the coup de grace. It could issue the "death penalty," as it did in response to a scandal at SMU in 1987. SMU's offenses were long-standing — a slush fund that had paid players for a decade. SMU was barred from fielding a football team for a year, which stretched into two years because the university had to start over from scratch. UNC's scandal was longer-lasting but perhaps not as blatant as SMU's. UNC did not violate the sacred notion of amateurism, but it tarnished its own academic reputation and integrity. A "death penalty" is not out of the question for UNC.
Ameliorating circumstances on UNC's side might be that the academic fraud was limited to one department and was conceived by and run by a handful of lower-level officials. But that might not be a sufficient excuse. The ability of non-academics to hijack education for the benefit of struggling athletes (and a few others) indicates a lack of oversight by the university administration. Perhaps that fault falls outside the purview of the NCAA — an academic matter rather than an athletic one — but it's of little comfort for UNC supporters who are embarrassed and angered by the indignity of it all.