Despite spending years saying the education of athletes should come first, the NCAA has changed course and now claims it has no legal obligation to ensure that athletes receive an education.
On its website, the NCAA prominently states, "It's our commitment — and our responsibility — to give young people opportunities to learn, play and succeed." And later, it says that "in the collegiate model of sports, the young men and women competing on the field or court are students first, athletes second."
However, in response to a lawsuit filed by former University of North Carolina athletes, which argues that the students did not receive an education while they were involved in the largest known academic fraud scandal in NCAA history, the NCAA stated that it holds no legal responsibility "to ensure the academic integrity of the courses offered to student-athletes at its member institutions."
The group also suggested that their role is similar to the American Bar Association or the American Medical Association, two groups who are not sued when a doctor or lawyer acts inappropriately.
Attorneys for the NCAA went on to say that "the NCAA did not assume a duty to ensure the quality of the education of student-athletes," and "the NCAA does not have âdirect, day-to-day, operational control' " over member institutions like UNC, writes Sara Ganim for CNN.
Former athletic director Gerald Gurney, who now is president of the Drake Group for academic integrity in collegiate sport, does not agree with their statements.
"If you look at their basic core principles, it's all about academics, the experience, the integration of academics, and the education of the student is paramount," Gurney said. "They seem to talk out of both sides of their mouths."
The scandal in question refers to thousands of athletes at UNC who, over an 18 year period, were placed in classes that never met, and given advisers who changed their grades and allowed them to plagiarize their work in order to allow athletes who were performing poorly academically to continue to be eligible to play sports.
UNC whistleblower and current NCAA critic Mary Willingham said that athletes are continually accepted to colleges across the country despite not being academically prepared. The athletes are then placed in classes that require little work to be completed.
"Why do we go through the trouble of compliance if we can't legitimize that the courses are real and the education is real anyway? It makes no sense," said Willingham, who recently wrote a book about the UNC scandal called "Cheated." "If they can't legitimize that the academics are real and take no responsibility for that, then why certify students semester after semester to play? It's lost its meaning for me."