Appeals court sides with UNC, NCAA in McAdoo case

dkane@newsobserver.comJanuary 16, 2013 

Michael McAdoo, whose lawsuit helped reveal the academic fraud scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill, on Tuesday lost his appeal against the university and the NCAA over his dismissal from the team two years ago.

The state Court of Appeals said McAdoo didn’t have a case because he achieved his dream of making the National Football League as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, and UNC had not relinquished the scholarship that would have allowed McAdoo to continue his education. The three judges also found that McAdoo’s claim that he suffered a financial penalty because he did not have one more college season to improve his draft standing was too speculative.

Since the three judges handed down an unanimous decision, McAdoo does not have an automatic right of appeal. His attorney will have to decide whether to petition the N.C. Supreme Court to take up the case.

“We’re obviously disappointed in the decision,” said Noah Huffstetler, McAdoo’s attorney. “The court put considerable emphasis on the fact that our client was able to make an NFL team, but we think the issues that we raised in this case are important, not only to our client, but to other men and women who find themselves in similar situations.”

The judges’ decision gave no hint of the scandal that McAdoo’s case inadvertently brought to light. In filing the suit, McAdoo made public one of the papers he wrote that the NCAA cited as evidence he had received improper help from a tutor. Rival N.C. State fans found the paper had numerous passages of plagiarism that were later confirmed by The News & Observer.

Chancellor Holden Thorp said at the time the missed plagiarism showed a need for the university to do a better job catching such cheating, but he saw no need to question the professor over the class. That changed in August 2011 when The N&O obtained a transcript from another dismissed football player, Marvin Austin, who had received a B-plus in an upper-level class with the same professor, Julius Nyang’oro, before entering the university as a full freshman needing to take remedial writing.

Days later, UNC officials accepted Nyang’oro’s resignation as chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department, and last month, a university-commissioned investigation found that Nyang’oro and his former longtime assistant had offered more than 200 lecture-style classes that never met. Among them were Austin’s class and the three taken by McAdoo that got him in trouble with the NCAA.

Early no-show classes

McAdoo had enrolled in the first of the classes in his first semester as a freshman. He had taken all three before he began his sophomore year. Court records show he was assigned a mentor, Jennifer Wiley, a student who served as a tutor. Typically, mentors are assigned to academically challenged students.

Wiley was later accused of committing academic fraud by providing footnotes, bibliographies and other improper help for McAdoo and other football players on their papers. A key factor in finding McAdoo culpable was that he turned to Wiley for help on sourcing instead of his regular tutor, according to the court decision.

Not addressed in the decision: Whether university officials told the NCAA that the three classes they investigated regarding McAdoo never met. In recent weeks, a senior associate athletic director, John Blanchard, has acknowledged he knew about the no-show classes at least as early as 2006. He has said he told a faculty athletics committee about the classes, but several faculty members and a former chancellor say they have no recollection of such a report.

Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice who filed a brief on McAdoo’s behalf, said the court’s ruling was “disappointing but somewhat predictable.”

“It’s still bitterly ironic,” Orr said, “that Mike has been primarily punished for a paper turned in to a class that no one has admitted teaching.”

A joint obligation

The court said that McAdoo had an obligation to report academic fraud under NCAA regulations, and did not.

David Ridpath, a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a former assistant athletic director at Marshall University, said the university should have reported that McAdoo was in bogus classes under the same requirement.

UNC declined to comment on that aspect of the case, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which is supposed to protect students’ education records.

NCAA officials would not address it either. But they did comment on the appellate court’s decision.

“We are pleased with the appellate court’s decision to uphold the dismissal of this case,” Donald M. Remy, NCAA executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement. “As we have stated previously, academic integrity is critically important to intercollegiate athletics and something that is expected from all student-athletes.”

Kane: 919-829-4861

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