Plagiarism discovery complicates McAdoo's case against UNC, NCAA
Defensive end Michael McAdoo is suing the NCAA, UNC for reinstatement
Seems like McAdoo has a case, but turns out he plagiarized paper in question
Will case still force NCAA to examine consistency, quality of its decisions?
When I wrote my Cheating for Dummies column earlier this week, I might also have included the following pieces of advice:
"(1) Football players shouldn't rape women or teammates or have sex with women who are drunk and passed out in their own apartments; (2) Players and coaches and recruiting assistants shouldn't ever use sex, drugs and alcohol to recruit players, and recruiting assistants and players shouldn't hire women to come to hotels; and (3) There will be zero tolerance -- especially for coaches and athletic directors who say 'I wasn't aware' and 'I didn't know' and 'I can't be held accountable for what happens late at night' and 'I forgot' and 'I don't recall' and 'She was a terrible player.'"
But I couldn't. First, those sentences wouldn't have made much sense in the context of the column. Second, they weren't my thoughts. Those sentiments emerged from the brain of Denver Post columnist Woody Paige in a 2004 piece about a scandal at Colorado. If I had taken something Paige had written and tried to pass it off as my own without proper attribution, it would have been plagiarism. People in my profession usually get fired for that sort of offense.
Which brings us to the case of North Carolina defensive end Michael McAdoo. On Wednesday, I outlined McAdoo's lawsuit against the NCAA, which seems like a pretty good case. The NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement staff permanently banned McAdoo from college sports because -- it alleges -- he took $110 in extra benefits and committed three instances of academic fraud. McAdoo sued because the NCAA ignored the fact that UNC's Undergraduate Honor Court found insufficient evidence to charge McAdoo with one count of academic fraud and found him not guilty of another. The honor court found McAdoo guilty in one instance, and that involved a tutor reformatting his citations and his works cited page for a paper in a Swahili class. The court suspended McAdoo from school for the spring 2011 semester.
Sounds like McAdoo has a fantastic case. The NCAA clearly ignored the facts when it sentenced him.
Here's where it gets complicated. When McAdoo's attorney filed the suit, he included as evidence the paper in question. This week, The Raleigh News and Observer posted the case's attached exhibits on its website. That's when a few bored N.C. State fans began Googling. In the process, they found that McAdoo had pasted large passages word-for-word from sources available on the Internet. Blog SportsByBrooks.com picked up the story, and it spread from there. Will the plagiarism sink McAdoo's case? His attorney says no, but it certainly seems to muddle matters.
McAdoo's paper included the following passage:
"Africa of today presents a complex picture. In area, a 'vast ill-formed triangle," (The Future of Africa, p. 1), the continent covers eleven and a half million miles in space. Each side of the triangle is pierced by a mighty river; on the north the Nile, on the west the Congo, on the east Zambesi. An African traveler has roughly classified the great continent thus: 'north Africa where men go for health; South Africa where they go for wealth, Central Africa where they go for adventure' (page 10. Its population of about 160 million seems enormous, yet, in comparison to the area, it is small. It is computed at fifteen to the square feet. Its races are innumerable; its dialect a vast confusion. The climate of Africa is modified by its elevation above the sea level, but two thirds of the continent lies within the tropics. The religion of Africa may be unequally divided under three heads: Christianity, Mohammedanism and Paganism. Africa's territorial divisions are, in the main, a matter of recent history. Eight million square miles of its area are partitioned amongst the various European powers."
Careful readers might have spotted a few oddities. First, in 2010, the Population Reference Bureau estimated Africa's population at 1.03 billion. That is more than six times larger than the population figure referenced in McAdoo's paper. Also, "Mohammedanism" is more commonly known as Islam. But it wasn't in 1911, when Scottish missionary Donald Fraser published The Future of Africa, which has been lovingly transcribed for future generations at Archive.org.
Had McAdoo paraphrased the material -- a perfectly acceptable practice given his use of citations -- he might have noticed the irregularities. But this looks like a select, control-c, control-v job. Here is that passage pasted directly from the source (which might look a little funny because whatever program transcribed the text didn't quite read it all correctly):
"Africa of to-day presents a complex picture. In area, a 'vast ill-formed triangle,' the continent covers eleven and a half million miles in space. Each side of the triangle is pierced by a mighty river; on the north the Nile, on the west the Congo, on the east the Zambesi. An African traveller has roughly classified the great continent thus: North Africa where men go for health, South Africa where they go for wealth. Central Africa where they go for adventure. Its population of about one hundred and sixty million seems enormous. Yet, in comparison to the area it is small, and computed at fifteen to the square mile. Its races are innumerable; its dialects a vast confusion. The climate of Africa is modified by its elevation above the sea-level, but two-thirds of the continent lies within the tropics. The rehgions of Africa may be unequally divided under three heads: Christianity, Mohammedanism, and Paganism. Africa's territorial divisions are, in the main, a matter of recent history. Eight milhon square miles of its area are partitioned amongst the various European powers."
SportsByBrooks and the message boarders at PackPride.com cite other examples within the paper, but you get the point. McAdoo, whose attorney has painted him as a victim of the prosecution-happy NCAA, is not as blameless as he has been made out to be. Still, attorney Noah Huffstetler believes the revelations will have no bearing on McAdoo's lawsuit or his quest for a preliminary injunction that would allow him to play this season. (McAdoo's hearing on the injunction has been moved up to Wednesday in Durham, N.C.) "We are not trying to re-litigate what the honor court found in that paper," Huffstetler said. "The honor court found problems with that paper. He received an F in the course."
The NCAA may try to re-litigate that case, though. Plagiarizing a paper is a more serious offense than having a tutor reformat the citations. NCAA attorneys almost certainly will seize on the plagiarism as evidence that their sentence was fair.
If a judge is willing to consider that before rendering his decision, then Huffstetler probably will counter with a question: How does plagiarizing a paper stack up with being fed test answers by a tutor? Because that's what happened a few years ago at Florida State. Then, the same body that banned McAdoo handed the athletes in that case a suspension of 30 percent of their sport's season. If the NCAA prevails in Wednesday's hearing, it will have stripped McAdoo of two full seasons.
Of course, the NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement staff didn't appear to worry about precedent or common sense in previous cases. After all, these are the same people who allowed Ohio State's tattoo crew to play in the Sugar Bowl win the school vacated on Friday.
If McAdoo hadn't plagiarized, he might have had an airtight case that would have a) Gotten him back on the field, b) Made him a chunk of change in a settlement, c) Forced the NCAA to examine the consistency and quality of the decisions made by its student-athlete reinstatement staff or d) Some or all of the above. That could all still happen, but the NCAA's attorneys now have a prime opportunity to cast doubt on McAdoo's entire case. We'll have to wait until Wednesday to find out whether the exposure of the plagiarism had any effect.
Until then, I'll be working on Cheating for Dummies: Student-Athlete Edition.
Rule No. 1: Always paraphrase, or at least make sure your tutor does.