Two former athletes at the University of North Carolina have filed a lawsuit against their alma mater and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), accusing them of academic fraud. College athletes who sue for compensation is an old story. But, in this instance, Rashanda McCants, a former women’s basketball player, and Devon Ramsay, who played football, are suing because, they say, they didn’t receive a meaningful education. They are seeking class-action status, damages for some athletes and changes in academic oversight.

They have a credible case. In October, the university released a report by Kenneth Wainstein, a former general counsel at the FBI, finding that from 1993 to 2011 thousands of students, almost half of them athletes, took classes that did not require work or that didn’t really exist. Students signed up for “independent study” courses in which they never met their professors and for lecture classes that never took place.

The failure to treat “student-athletes” as actual students goes beyond North Carolina.

The NCAA is well aware that it has a problem: It is investigating 20 universities on suspicion of academic misconduct, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

At a convention this month, NCAA President Mark Emmert said that the association had to “emphasize the centrality of academic success as the touchstone for why we participate in collegiate athletics” and wondered whether it needed to “consider new approaches — bolder, broader approaches?”

That rhetoric sounds nice, but the NCAA has historically stood in the way of reform by perpetuating the myth that being a “student” is always compatible with being an “athlete.”

What happened at North Carolina is shameful but not surprising. Until the NCAA recognizes that some players are essentially professionals, universities will continue to treat their education like the fig leaf it is. Young people enticed by the fantasy that they can play and learn at a high level will continue to suffer the consequences.

FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES