Mary Willingham calls NCAA a 'cartel' in a sit-down interview in her Chapel Hill home

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Willingham said she wants to take down the NCAA, which she calls a "cartel." (WTVD)

Former tutor to UNC-Chapel Hill athletes and self-proclaimed whistle blower, Mary Willingham, sat down for an extended interview with ABC11 at her home.

Willingham is in the midst of a lawsuit against the university and recently co-authored a book with UNC history professor Jay Smith.

We spoke with Willingham and Smith about their book and the new class-action lawsuit against the NCAA and UNC brought forth by two former Carolina athletes.


Their new book is called "Cheated: The UNC Scandal, the Education of Athletes, and the Future of Big-Time College Sports."

Smith said they wrote the book to explain what happened during the athletic-academic scandal and why. He calls the book a truthful chronicle and says pursuing the truth is his agenda.

"We did it because it's an important part to the history... It's part of the history now of North Carolina for better or worse, for UNC Chapel Hill," Willingham said.


Willingham says she too has an agenda. She says that even though she believes she did good work at the university, student athletes still didn't get the education they need.

"We didn't provide them is what we promised them, and that was a real education, and that's wrong. And so my agenda is to right the wrong," Willingham said.

She says she wants to keep working at UNC.

"I want my job back. I love Carolina. I love the students there and I did good work while I was there," Willingham said.

We asked her if she believes she could have good, honest employment at UNC again. She said she still believes people will do that right thing, and it's the reason she waited so long before blowing the whistle.

"I knew about these problems between 2003 and 2010 and I talked about the problems on the inside. Because I believed that people in the leadership positions would do the right thing, Willingham said.

"I believed that people, adults, leaders would do the right thing. You know, I still believe that," Willingham added.


We asked Willingham if she sought to profit off of her lawsuit against the university, and although the suit asks for damages, Willingham said the amount doesn't even begin to cover legal fees.

"To make money off of the backs of these athletes is not absolutely something that I would want to do. That's not the point at all. Shoot, the NCAA cartel, they're doing that," Willingham said.

Willingham says her agenda extends to all of college athletics and that she'd like to see an end to the NCAA.

"We need to stop them. We need to dismantle them. It's a system where they don't get paid and they're not getting a real education. That's my agenda. It's to fix that."

Smith says he thinks the recent class action lawsuit against the NCAA and UNC presents evidence that both ignored signs of corruption in athletics and academics.

"All of the evidence going back into the early 80's, and extending through the early twenty-first century showed anybody who was paying attention that this was not a tenable relationship any longer," Smith said.

He says that the pressure from athletics to recruit top athletes and make sure they're academically eligible isn't going to go away.

"New shortcuts will be invented, new friendly faculty will be found, new programs will be nurtured by the athletic machine," Smith said.

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