July 1, 2014

The NCAA is coming back to UNC: Questions and answers

The NCAA is reopening its investigation into academic misconduct at UNC. Here are some questions and answers about what it all means.

A lot of people at North Carolina – administrators, coaches, support personnel – never thought this day would come. Here we are, though: The NCAA is coming back, and reopening the investigation that ended, the first time, in 2012.

You can read the story – the hows and whys of this news – right here.

But even after reading that, you’re probably still left with some questions. I’ll attempt to answer some of the more obvious ones:

Q: Why now – why is the NCAA reopening the UNC case now?

A: If you read the statement the NCAA came out with yesterday, the NCAA says that “people with additional information” might now be willing to speak with the NCAA Enforcement Staff. The NCAA also said that “others who were previously uncooperative” might now be willing to speak with the Enforcement Staff, too.

Q: So what’s that mean, basically?

A: It means that the NCAA believes it can obtain some new information about the academic misconduct that was a part of the original infractions case at UNC. Presumably, the NCAA believes people closely associated with the mess within the African- and Afro-American Studies Department, which has since been renamed, might talk to the Enforcement Staff.

Q: You’re talking about Julius Nyang’oro and Debbie Crowder, right?

A: Yes. Mostly. Nyang’oro is the former chairman of the AFAM Department. Crowder served as his longtime assistant. They did not speak with the NCAA during its original investigation. But they have been cooperating with Ken Wainstein’s investigation, and it’s easy to connect the dots and conclude that the “previously uncooperative” people are Nyang’oro and Crowder.

Q: Are Nyang’oro and Crowder the only ones who didn’t talk before who might be willing now?

A: Not necessarily. They’re the ones receiving the most attention, because their names have been circulating for years, along with the ongoing AFAM stories. But there could be others of interest for the NCAA Enforcement Staff. It’s impossible to know, for sure, until the investigative process runs its course. While the Enforcement Staff would certainly be interested in speaking with Nyang’oro and Crowder, it’d also love to hear from former athletes who can paint a picture of what happened. Would Rashad McCants, who alleged that tutors wrote papers for him, and that the coaching staff – including Roy Williams – knew about no-show AFAM courses, talk with the NCAA? I don’t know. But if he would, I’m betting the Enforcement Staff would listen.

Q: So how bad could this be for UNC?

A: It depends. (Doesn’t everything depend, by the way?) Let’s say Nyang’oro and Crowder talk with the NCAA, and they tell investigators that the no-show courses in AFAM were developed, in part, as a way to help athletes maintain their eligibility. That’d be bad. Let’s say Nyang’oro and Crowder tell the NCAA that people associated with the athletic department – be it academic advisors or counselors, or coaches – encouraged athletes to take bogus courses, which the advisors, counselors and coaches knew to be bogus, to remain eligible. That’d be bad. How likely is it that Nyang’oro and Crowder would say those things? Who knows. How difficult will it be to prove that coaches, advisors and others knew some of these courses were fraudulent? Pretty difficult, I’m guessing. This much is clear enough, though: any kind of evidence the NCAA obtains that links the athletic department with the no-show classes – to their formation and existence, to their ability to help athletes stay eligible – will not be good for UNC. You could argue that such a link has already been established by our reporting of this story. In a story that Dan Kane wrote that was published last summer, a trail emails showed that Nyang’oro had a friendly relationship with the department that tutors athletes. Is that concerning, in the eyes of the NCAA? We’ll see.

Q: What about the Wainstein report – how does it play into the NCAA investigation?

A: Wainstein is the former federal prosecutor UNC hired in February to conduct another investigation into the AFAM mess. He’s investigating the no-show classes, the unauthorized grade changes and independent studies courses that had little to no instruction. His investigation is being counted on to be the most comprehensive investigation to date of the problems in AFAM, and their relationship to athletics. Wainstein was always going to be working with the NCAA, in a sense. He released a statement on Monday in which he said he’d already had conversations with the NCAA Enforcement Staff. Those conversations will continue, he said. Wainstein anticipates that his report will be finished at some point in the fall. The NCAA will review that report – it was always going to review it, even without starting another investigation – and the process will play out from there. The Wainstein investigation, it seems, will likely help the NCAA be as thorough as possible this time around.

Q: I’ve seen some speculation that maybe, just maybe, the NCAA is getting back involved as a formality – so it can say it looked into the AFAM stuff and then say “nothing to see here” and be done with this. Thoughts?

A: Not a chance that’s the NCAA’s mindset entering this. Yes, the NCAA has received plenty of criticism for its inaction in this case during the past two years. Plenty of national media members have ripped the NCAA, and its silence on the UNC case has made its way to Washington, D.C., where members of Congress have questioned the NCAA’s disinterest – until now – in the UNC case. So yes, the NCAA felt some pressure – or at least received some pressure – to do something. Even so, the NCAA does what it wants. And when it comes to investigations, it’s sometimes difficult to explain why it looks some places but not others, or why some investigations take so long. Regardless, the NCAA wouldn’t reopen an investigation just for show. That’s not how it operates.

Q: So what kind of a time frame are we looking at here?

A: My guess is a longer one than anyone at UNC would like. NCAA investigations sometimes move at a glacial pace. I covered one at Florida State once that seemed to last forever. I think it was two years or so, in fact. The first NCAA investigation at UNC started in the summer of 2010 and ended in March 2012, with the release of the Committee on Infractions’ final report. No one can say for sure how long this will last. The Wainstein report is expected in the fall, so the NCAA case will undoubtedly last beyond the release of that report. I’m guessing it lasts a good while longer, and that it could stretch into 2015. That’s just how things work with the NCAA. (Remember how long the P.J. Hairston/ Leslie McDonald cases took to resolve?) Even if all the NCAA wants to do is talk with Nyang’oro and Crowder, investigations tend to take a long, winding path. One we all could be following for a while. And here’s another thing, too: You never know what NCAA investigators are going to uncover. They could be investigating one thing, and another problem could emerge. That’s what happened during the original investigation, and it’s how the academic misconduct side of that investigation emerged -- the NCAA discovered it when it was looking into impermissible benefits. So the old saying is true: You never want the NCAA on your campus, because you never know what it might find.

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