It should have been a clue that another Kane Klassic was coming down the pike with the piece by News & Observer editor John Drescher on Saturday in which he defended the paper's ongoing investigation into impropriety at UNC and "answered" some of the criticisms supposedly leveled at the N&O by UNC readers and fans.
Then on Sunday, Kane drops a story about alleged plagiarism by current UNC player Erik Highsmith in a blog post completed for an assignment in a Communications 350 class in the Spring of 2011. The blog entry was copied from another blog authored by 11 year-olds and was turned in late, so the instructor had already given Highsmith a grade of zero on the assignment. The instructor did not notify the UNC Honor Court because she had already given Highsmith a zero, but she did notify the athletic advising department, who assured her the student would be spoken to. A review of the blog posts revealed that former player Donte Paige-Moss also plagiarized a blog post for the same course and while the instructor did not catch that offense, Paige-Moss was late on the assignment as well and also received a grade penalty.
Kane then attempts to weakly connect these incidents of plagiarism to the Michael McAdoo case, as trumpeted by the breathless headline, "More plagiarism questions haunt UNC-CH". He does concede that it is unclear what final grade either Highsmith or Paige-Moss received for the class, but that since the blog was 30% of the final grade, Highsmith would have to had very high marks to earn a C.
So let me get this straight: a student-athlete plagiarized a passage for a blog post, received a zero for the assignment, and likely did not pass the course. That's crack investigative reporting right there. Of course, it wouldn't be Klassic Kane without a little innuendo thrown in there, as well as a quote from UNC history professor and academic crusader Jay Smith, who lashes out at the culture of plagiarism that he claims is accepted "among a certain subculture of athletes" and their counselors and tutors.
Also adding intrigue - and concern - to the story is the revelation that the blog posts were found on UNC's servers - by NC State fans. The vision of WuffLoons living in their mothers' basements, writing code to scour tens of thousands of UNC webpages to find anything produced by athletes and then cross-checking it for plagiarism while gorging on Hot Pockets and reruns of "Xena, Warrior Princess" does little to dispel the stereotype of being obsessed with UNC.
Nor does a piece like this add credence to Drescher's plea on Saturday that the paper continues to print stories like this because they are of news value. What many ABCers and the national punditry that echo every 1,200-word Kane re-hash as "more trouble for UNC" are either unwilling or unable to consider is that the question, at least as far as the NCAA is concerned, is whether or not the academic improprieties were set up for the specific benefit of student-athletes. To date, no credible evidence has emerged to prove this is the case.
It has never been my position, nor the position of this blog, to claim "everyone does it." But again, the question is, at least for NCAA purposes, was any academic impropriety set up specifically to help athletes? College students, and not just athletes, plagiarize all the time, especially in the internet era. Kane has produced a 1,300-word article that, as near as I can tell, demonstrates that a student-athlete plagiarized an assignment for which he had received a grade of zero. Even dismissing the fact that plagiarism is prevalent among many college students and not just athletes, plagiarism in and of itself is not an NCAA violation, especially in this case where the instructor admits the student received a grade of zero (although not for plagiarism). So why, exactly, did Kane write this again? Just to shoe-horn in a quote from Jay Smith claiming plagiarism is acceptable among a certain subculture of athletes?
Drescher can try to defend this kind of "reporting" all he wants, and as I have said all along, I welcome the Martin investigation and any other legitimate look into what truly went on at UNC and how to fix it. But both Drescher and Kane lower the value of their actual discoveries when they push this kind of tripe, which is much better found on a WuffLoon blog rather than in the paper of record in the Triangle area, as advancing the story.
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