CHAPEL HILL — The mother of University of North Carolina football player Devon Ramsay is calling for the NCAA to rescind its permanent ban on her son and apologize to UNC for failing to respect the school's decision on an academic matter.
Sharon Lee, in a meeting she requested with a reporter, said the NCAA's penalty is excessive and cruel considering Ramsay's limited exposure in the case.
She said help from a tutor on one written assignment constituted Ramsay's only involvement in the NCAA's investigation of academic misconduct and improper benefits provided by agents and others at UNC.
Lee said her son and UNC officials have told her that UNC's own academic honor system didn't consider Ramsay's issue serious enough to send to the student-run honor court for possible sanctions.
After that, Lee said, she thought her son would be cleared to return to the team. He had played in the first four games of the season but then had been held out since UNC discovered the questionable term paper.
Instead, she said, the NCAA reviewed his case and ruled he had received an impermissible benefit.
UNC announced Nov. 15 that the NCAA has banned Ramsay permanently. The school is appealing the permanent bans of Ramsay and teammate Michael McAdoo, but the NCAA has yet to hear the appeal.
"I have no idea why the NCAA is ... feeling that they cannot look at their member schools and say, 'Your honor court says X or Y on this issue, and therefore we follow that. We respect that,' " Lee said.
Informed of Lee's concerns by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn responded to the newspapers by e-mail.
"All reinstatement decisions are made according to the guidelines created by our members, as well as previous decisions in similar previous cases," Osburn wrote. "However, no two cases are likely to be identical, so each must be considered on their own merits. Each case can be appealed to the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement."
Osburn wrote that the NCAA cannot comment on current, pending or potential investigations.
UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said federal student privacy laws prevent him from commenting on Ramsay's case. He said he would stand by his statement from the UNC news release announcing the NCAA's penalty for Ramsay and McAdoo, where he vowed to aggressively appeal and said the facts in both cases do not support permanent ineligibility.
Ramsay's involvement in the case stems from assistance he received on a paper dated Nov. 5, 2008, according to his mother. Lee provided the newspaper with copies of the three-page paper titled "Industrialized Nations" for a Sociology 111 class that Ramsay sent the tutor for review and received back from the tutor with changes made.
According to Lee, Ramsay communicated with the tutor by e-mail. UNC team spokesman Kevin Best said communications by e-mail between athletes and tutors were not prohibited in 2008, although they are banned now by the school's tutoring policy.
The majority of the paper returned to Ramsay contains only minor edits, but there are major differences between the paper Ramsay sent the tutor and the paper he received back. A three-sentence concluding paragraph is added, and the material in the opening paragraph is rearranged and expanded upon.
The other places where the paper returned to Ramsay differs from the one he sent the tutor:
Eight places where run-on sentences are split into two, plus a period added at the end of one paragraph.
Five places where commas are added.
Four places where word tenses are changed (for example, "affect" changed to "affecting").
Four places where capital letters are made lower case.
Three cases where a word is dropped, added or changed to make Ramsay's point clearer.
Three cases where a phrase is deleted, added or changed to make his point clearer.
Despite the changes, the first version Ramsay sent the tutor describes in detail complex issues such as differences in the distribution of wealth in industrialized and non-industrialized nations.
"He knows how to write a paper," Lee said.
Lee said it's her understanding that the tutor at the center of the investigation, Jennifer Wiley, provided help on the paper. Baddour sent Wiley a letter cutting ties with her on Nov. 5, 2010, citing more than $2,000 in benefits and impermissible academic assistance to athletes in 2009 and 2010.
Wiley's lawyer, Joseph B. Cheshire V, said in an e-mail that his client has no comment for this story beyond the statements she had previously given the newspaper. In a previous statement, Cheshire said Wiley did not intend to provide impermissible academic assistance and is saddened by how it has affected the players. She has requested privacy.
Tears welled up in Lee's eyes at a Chapel Hill coffee shop as she discussed her son's situation Sunday morning before driving back home to New Jersey.
"I know how hard he's worked," she said, "and I know he's done nothing wrong. And I hate it."
Lee said her son was reluctant to have her speak publicly because he believes the system eventually will exonerate him. She said Ramsay was honest with investigators and is a good student with a grade-point average of about 2.6. She is concerned, though, about the effect the NCAA's ban will have on his reputation.
As she follows news about new research on the effect of concussions on players, she is a bit squeamish about Ramsay playing football. But she knows how important it is to him, so she is fighting for him.
"I hope [UNC] will appeal and appeal and appeal," she said. "And if they don't, I will."
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