Players in line to face honor court

Staff WriterSeptember 30, 2010 

— North Carolina football players suspected of academic cheating will have to get in line with every other UNC student in a similar situation.

Right now, that line stretches to 70 students or more. That was the approximate number of cases on the docket of the university's student judicial system last week, university officials said. It isn't clear how many of the 10 Tar Heels football players still sidelined by the NCAA investigation of the program have been implicated in cases of potential academic misconduct. University officials have said, though, that it could take several weeks at least for the current student cases to be resolved.

Winston Crisp, UNC's vice chancellor for student affairs, said there was no way to predict when the UNC football cases would be resolved.

"I think people have some unreasonable expectations," he said. "There isn't an easy answer to give people who want to know how long this will take."

UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said Wednesday that about 98 percent of his department's investigation into possible academic misconduct on the football team is complete (although the athletic department will be looking into other university teams, as well.) Results from that investigation have been sent to the student attorney general's office. If that office charges a student with cheating or with another violation of UNC's honor code, the accused has a hearing with the honor court, which issues rulings and decides on a punishment.

Baddour said he has an idea of when the honor court will rule on the football cases in front of it, "but I'm not at liberty to say [when]. I do have some sense of what the effort is, and how they're moving it along, but I think it would be unfair to them [for me] to publicly talk about that."

The university and the NCAA are investigating potential cases of academic misconduct within the football program, as well as reports of potential improper contact with sports agents. Thirteen players were held out of the Tar Heels' season opener against LSU; one, tailback Shaun Draughn, was subsequently cleared to play the following week against Georgia Tech.

Two other players from that group, starting defensive backs Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams, were ordered last week to repay benefits and serve suspensions of six and four games, respectively, for violating NCAA rules governing contact with agents and preferential treatment. (The NCAA will hear the school's appeals on those two cases Friday.)

Several UNC trustees asked last week whether the university could expedite the honor court process so that football players who may not be at fault could be cleared more quickly to play. But officials said they won't unduly affect the student-run court, and UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said the university may still hold a player out of competition even after the NCAA cleared him if the honor court still has questions.

"We have had a student honor system for 130 years, and I can't imagine circumventing that process under any circumstance," Thorp said during a last week's meeting of the board of trustees. "I also can't imagine taking steps where we would knowingly play a student-athlete we know is ineligible."

Thorp and Baddour stressed that each player's case is unique, so it isn't likely that every player's case will be resolved at the same time.

Case by case

At UNC, the judicial system is run entirely by students.

Suspected violations of the honor code and student code of conduct are forwarded to the student attorney general's office, which has 30 days to decide whether a student should be charged. Often, the decision-to-charge process takes less time, Crisp said.

"It depends on the complexity of the case," he said. "So it's very difficult to say how long a process will take."

Once charged, a student has a preliminary conference to learn about the charges, rights and processes and is given time to plan a defense. The honor court then hears the case and rules and administers punishment, if needed, generally all in one day. Occasionally, the hearing process can stretch to two or three days, Crisp said.

The court hears six to 10 cases a week. Because each case is unique, it's difficult to say how long the entire process should take, said Jonathan Sauls, UNC's judicial programs officer.

"I don't know there is a typical or average case," he said. "It is influenced by so many factors. It is a bit disingenuous to say it will take 'X.' I'd say it's on order of weeks rather than days or months. But two? Four? Six weeks? It depends on the nature of the case."

The honor court has the power to administer punishments ranging from a failing grade in a course to probation, temporary or permanent suspension or, with the chancellor's approval, expulsion. (A student suspended permanently from UNC-Chapel Hill could still be admitted to another school within the UNC system. A student expelled from the university could not.)

If a student-athlete is suspended because of an honor court violation, the student-athlete could, under certain circumstances, claim the lost season as a redshirt year and preserve that year of eligibility, Baddour said.

The customary punishment for cheating is a failing grade for a component of the assignment, the entire assignment, or for the course, along with a one-semester suspension during which time the student must leave the university, Sauls said.

"Expulsion and [permanent] suspension are not common," Sauls said. "They are handed out sparingly."

Staff writer Robbi Pickeral contributed to this report.

eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4563

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