NCAA event provides insight into UNC probe

Event gives some insight into the ongoing NCAA investigation into the UNC football program that began last July and led to seven Tar Heels missing entire 2010 season.

Staff WriterMay 11, 2011 

— It takes an average of 10 to 11 months for an NCAA investigation to generate a Notice of Allegations.

The NCAA staff supplied that statistical nugget to reporters during a new interactive event it calls the "NCAA Enforcement Experience" that was conducted for the first time Tuesday at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis.

About two dozen invited journalists spent a day following a mock case from its inception as an anonymous tip to completion in penalties issued by the Committee on Infractions.

Along the way, NCAA officials explained how the investigative and penalty process works.

For a sportswriter from North Carolina, the obvious interest in the event was trying to figure out what's next for the UNC football program.

Fourteen UNC players missed at least one game and seven missed the entire season in 2010 in an investigation into impermissible benefits and academic misconduct. Associate head coach John Blake resigned after his relationship and financial ties to the late sports agent Gary Wichard made headlines.

The investigation started in July. That was 10 months ago.

NCAA officials weren't commenting on ongoing investigations Tuesday, but some general principles presented applied to UNC.

For starters, UNC has reached the average length of time for a Notice of Allegations delineating formal charges to appear - if the NCAA staff determines that institutional violations were committed.

A couple of principles seem ominous for UNC:

One of the NCAA's power point slides said that regardless of knowledge or involvement under NCAA rules, institutions are responsible for actions of staff members, student-athletes and boosters.

In other words, UNC's assertion that coach Butch Davis didn't know about the violations might not save the program from penalties.

Academic fraud is considered an aggravating factor for a school, so that could have a negative impact on UNC.

Other principles could work in UNC's favor in the NCAA process:

Former Committee on Infractions chair Josephine Potuto said that in NCAA rules compliance, "you can't be everywhere and you can't do everything, and the committee understands that perfectly."

Cooperating with the NCAA can lessen the blow for a school. It has to be "exceptional cooperation," according to the NCAA, but UNC athletic director Dick Baddour has said the school provided that.

Perhaps the most interesting item was the burden of proof that NCAA enforcement representatives face when they go in front of the Committee on Infractions.

It isn't as high as in a criminal court.

That committee bases its judgments on information that's "credible, persuasive and of a kind on which reasonably prudent persons rely in the conduct of serious affairs," according to another power point slide.

"The standard of proof that's used here would be the equivalent of what's called in a civil case, 'Clear and convincing evidence,' " Potuto said. "It's not the level of beyond a reasonable doubt."

The seminar was part of an overall effort by new NCAA president Mark Emmert to be more transparent even as the organization has faced significant criticism.

Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, now the No. 1 draft choice of the Carolina Panthers, led the Tigers to a national championship even though the NCAA found that Newton's father had solicited money from other schools hoping to sign him.

Five Ohio State players were suspended for five games in 2011 but were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl after taking impermissible benefits.

And at North Carolina, fullback Devon Ramsay initially was banned for life on the basis of help he received from a tutor.

That ruling later was overturned, but Ramsay still missed the final eight games of the 2010 season.

There are specific questions about the NCAA's protocol, particularly on Ramsay's case, that will need to be asked another day.

The eight-hour seminar proved barely long enough to follow the mock case to completion.

But Emmert said he was committed to helping the public understand a complicated process.

"We don't do that as well as we need to," Emmert said, "and we hope to get better at it."

How UNC will emerge from that process remains to be seen. If the Tar Heels' case proceeds according to an average timeline, though, further word from the NCAA could be imminent.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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