DURHAM, N.C. (CN) - The NCAA and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fail to provide a meaningful education to scholarship athletes who attend UNC, two former student-athletes claim in a class action.
Lead plaintiff Rashanda McCants attended UNC from 2005 to 2009 on an athletic scholarship and played for the women's basketball team. Co-plaintiff Devon Ramsay attended UNC from 2007 to 2012 on an athletic scholarship and played on UNC's football team.
Both students say they took classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department (AFAM) that have been determined by independent investigators to be academically unsound.
They claim that UNC and the NCAA broke their promises to provide student-athletes a meaningful education by steering them into "sham 'paper classes' that they were not required to attend, that required little to no work, that were not taught by a faculty member, and that involved no interaction with a faculty member."
These "sham" classes were provided to hundreds of students over two decades, McCants and Ramsay say.
AFAM Student Services Manager Deborah Crowder, an administrator who was not a member of the faculty, created the paper classes under the supervision of AFAM Chair Julius Nyang'oro, according to the 100-page complaint.
Crowder is not named as a defendant; only the NCAA and UNC-Chapel Hill are.
Around 1989, Crowder initiated a series of independent studies courses and invited student-athletes to enroll. Unlike traditional independent studies classes, however, no faculty member was involved in the courses nor did any faculty member supervise students' research and writing, according to the lawsuit. Student-athletes only interacted with Crowder, who graded their papers with inflated grades, the complaint states.
According to the lawsuit and independent investigations, Crowder did not work alone. Academic counselors steered student-athletes, many of whom were African-American, into these sham classes. The counselors - many of whom were aware that there was no faculty involvement in the classes - "were under constant pressure to maintain eligibility of student-athletes," the lawsuit states.
The plaintiffs claim that UNC women's basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill also helped steer student-athletes into paper classes. "During the Class Periods, Boxill would email Crowder with specific grade suggestions for women's basketball payers," the lawsuit states.
The AFAM paper classes were so important to keeping football players eligible that "the UNC Athletic Department outlined the crisis posed by Crowder's retirement in an internal slide presentation" that was presented to the coaching staff, the plaintiffs say.
They claim that this "academic debacle" could have come as no surprise to the NCAA.
"It had ample warning, including empirical evidence from numerous academic experts, that many college athletes were not receiving a meaningful education, including - disproportionally - African-American college athletes in revenue-producing sports," the lawsuit states. "Although the NCAA's rules prohibit academic fraud, the NCAA knew of dozens of instances of academic fraud in its member schools' athletic programs over the last century, and it nevertheless refused to implement adequate monitoring systems to detect and prevent these occurrences as its member institutions."
But the NCAA allowed college sports programs to function as "diploma mills that compromise education opportunities and the future job prospects of student-athletes for the sake of wins and revenues," the students say in the complaint.
They seek class certification, declaratory and injunctive relief, and damages for breach of contract, breach of faith, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence.
Their lead counsel is Robert Orr, of Raleigh.
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