UNC-Chapel Hill has received a third notice of allegations from the NCAA in the academic fraud case, several weeks after appearing before the association’s Committee on Infractions in a rare procedural hearing.
The fresh set of charges from the enforcement agency marks yet another unusual turn in a case that has now stretched beyond five years.
Rick White, a UNC spokesman, confirmed in an email that the third notice had been delivered. He did not offer details but said the new notice would be posted on UNC’s website.
A new notice typically involves several months of back and forth between UNC and the NCAA before an infractions hearing is scheduled. It would likely take the place of the most recent set of charges, which the NCAA levied in April; those allegations were generally more lenient than the first group, dropping a previous charge of providing impermissible benefits and eliminating specific mention of football and men’s basketball.
The case involves 18 years of bogus classes offered by a former manager of the African and Afro-American Studies department, Deborah Crowder, and former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro. Half of the roughly 3,100 students who took the classes were athletes, with football and men’s basketball having the highest enrollments.
The classes never met and had no instructor. Those who turned in a paper received a high grade, regardless of its quality.
An unusual move
Stuart Brown, a lawyer in Atlanta who represents colleges in NCAA matters, has followed the case closely. He could not recall a case that had prompted a third notice of allegations, though given the secrecy surrounding infractions cases, he said, it’s possible.
Brown said the release of a third notice could make proving the case harder for the NCAA if it shows an additional allegation or a reinsertion of the impermissible benefits charge.
“While that would be allowable under the NCAA bylaws,” he said, “it would look like there’s a lot of running in circles.”
Michael Buckner, a south Florida lawyer who also specializes in NCAA cases, said a third notice is rare, and it would have to involve “crucial information” for a new notice to be issued at this stage of the case.
“In my prior cases, a (notice of allegations) is amended to correct a deficiency in one of the allegations or to conform an allegation with the current record,” Buckner said.
The infractions committee, which ran the October procedural hearing, has the latitude to go beyond what the NCAA enforcement staff finds. In a recent case involving Cal State Northridge, for example, the committee added an academic fraud violation in a case involving the men’s basketball team.
The one certain thing, Brown said, is a legal bill that’s well into the millions of dollars for UNC is going to continue to climb. A new notice would typically give a school another 90 days to respond, followed by 60 days for the NCAA’s enforcement staff to weigh in before a hearing is scheduled.
18 years of classes
The News & Observer’s reporting in August 2011 led to an investigation of the classes when it revealed that an incoming freshman football player was placed in a high-level class and received a high grade.
UNC informed the NCAA immediately, but after an investigation that lasted little more than a month, the association did not file charges. Correspondence later showed the NCAA had assumed the fake classes weren’t athletics-driven because non-athletes were enrolled and received the same high grades.
That position changed in 2014, when Crowder and Nyang’oro began cooperating with a UNC-backed investigation led by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. He found several staffers in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes knew the classes had no instructor, but used them to help keep athletes eligible.
The NCAA returned for a second investigation during Wainstein’s probe and filed its first notice of allegations in May 2015. That notice said the university had offered impermissible benefits to athletes by giving them special access to the classes. It mentioned football and men’s basketball as primary beneficiaries. It also charged the university with lack of institutional control, considered the most serious charge the NCAA can levy.
But in April, the NCAA filed a second notice that dropped the impermissible benefits charge while adding a charge of failure to monitor, asserting that UNC academic and athletic officials should have detected the fake-class scheme. The second notice no longer mentioned football and men’s basketball, suggesting to some that those programs were no longer in serious trouble.
It also expanded an unethical conduct allegation regarding former faculty leader Jan Boxill, contending she had provided improper academic help to women’s basketball players. Boxill had long served as the team’s academic counselor. She has denied doing anything wrong and is fighting the allegation.
The university contends the bogus classes are none of the NCAA’s business. It made several largely procedural arguments that the Committee on Infractions considered at the hearing on Oct. 28.