By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) During the 2004-05 college basketball season, Rashad McCants rarely went to class at the University of North Carolina. His tutors wrote his term papers. And he probably should have been academically ineligible when his Tar Heels beat Illinois, 75-70, in the national championship game.

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At least, that’s what McCants said to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” in an interview released today that’s the latest blow in an ongoing academic scandal that continues to metastasize for North Carolina and its athletic department.

In Illini Nation, many fans are still smarting from that championship game loss to the Tar Heels nine years ago, and this morning several of them reached out to me online to ask how I was feeling about McCants’ claims.

My answer? Sad.

Sad because if it’s true that Illinois lost the national title to a team that had at least one ineligible star – and, who knows, perhaps several of them – then that’s certainly an enormous shame.

Nevertheless, that loss to the Tar Heels can’t take the magic away from the Illini’s incredible 37-2 season, and McCants’ claims won’t give Illinois a national championship even if North Carolina is ultimately forced to vacate its title. The Illini still need to win that on the court someday.

But what’s even sadder to me about the McCants situation are his explanations to “Outside the Lines” about why he didn’t question the shady academic practices when he was enrolled at North Carolinaand the regrets that he seemingly has about them today.

“I thought it was a part of the college experience, just like watching it on a movie from ‘He Got Game’ or ‘Blue Chips,’” McCants told Outside the Lines.

“When you get to college, you don’t go to class, you don’t do nothing, you just show up and play. That’s exactly how it was, you know, and I think that was the tradition of college basketball, or college, period, any sport. You’re not there to get an education, though they tell you that.

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“You’re there to make revenue for the college. You’re there to put fans in the seats. You’re there to bring prestige to the university by winning games.”

That’s true, and to argue otherwise would be naive. College athletes – the stars, in particular – are at universities to do all of those things. But college kids, athletes or otherwise, should also be at universities to get an education.

Over the past several months, we’ve heard so much talk about how college athletes deserve financial compensation for playing while the value of academic compensation seems to continually be diminished and pushed to sidelines. In my mind, however, you can’t put a price tag on being educated. And even future multimillionaires need to know how to manage their money and make smart life decisions beyond the college bubble.

As he nears his 30th birthday this fall, McCants now sounds like a man who gets that and laments not any chances or dollars that he may have missed on the basketball court, but rather the opportunities that slipped through his fingers in the classroom.

“It’s about my kids, about your kids. It’s about their kids. It’s about knowing the education that I received and knowing that something needs to change,” he said. “This has nothing to do with the Carolina fans or the Carolina program. It has everything to do with the system, and Carolina just so happened to be a part of the system and they participated in the system, so in retrospect, you have to look at it and say, ‘Hey, you know what you did wrong. Stand up.’ It’s time for everybody to really just be accountable.”

Saying he’s prepared for backlash from some UNC fans, McCants went on to add, “If there are Carolina fans that don’t like what I’m saying and don’t like what’s happening right now, they need to look in the mirror, see that it’s a bigger picture … I’m putting my life on the line for the younger generation right now, and I know that nobody else wants to step up and speak out because everybody’s afraid, fear, submission, especially the black athletes.

“College was a great experience, but looking back at it, now it’s almost a tragedy because I spent a lot of my time in a class I didn’t do anything in.”

That’s sad, but at the same time, it’s also refreshing to actually hear a former college athlete talk about the problems of what the NCAA is offering academically rather than what it’s offering financially. As a player, I wasn’t much of a Rashad McCants fan.

But as a man, I’m finding myself to be a much bigger fan of his today.

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Follow Dave on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his columns here.