North Carolina has received its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, which last summer began an investigation into a long-running system of fraudulent African Studies classes that involved 3,100 students over an 18-year period.
The NCAA's investigation focused, specifically, on how those bogus classes benefited athletes, and to what degree the “scheme” – which is how independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein repeatedly described it – originated solely for the benefit of athletes. It's a complicated investigation, though, because of its scope and because a case like this is unprecedented.
Given the news of the day – that UNC has finally received the results of the NCAA's investigation – there are lots of questions and, not all that surprising at this point, not a ton of answers. Even so, here's a FAQ of sorts on a day that's been a long time coming:
Q. So does this mean we know what will happen at UNC in terms of penalties? Are banners coming down? Are postseason bans coming?
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A: To put it colloquially: hold your horses. Or, if you prefer, cool your jets. We're a long, long ways from knowing what sanctions UNC might be facing. Those questions are impossible to answer at this point.
Q. OK so what does this mean, exactly, that UNC has received the Notice of Allegations?
A. It means, in essence, that the NCAA's enforcement staff – which is the NCAA's investigative body – has completed its investigation and notified UNC of the results of that investigation. The Notice of Allegations is a formal document that outlines the NCAA violations that the enforcement staff believes it has identified, and the document offers evidence supporting the finding of those violations.
Q. Do we know yet what UNC's Notice of Allegations contains?
A. No. The document hasn't been released publicly.
Q. But it will be released publicly, right?
A. A redacted version of the Notice of Allegations will be released, yes. But it could take awhile. UNC's legal staff is reviewing the NOA and it will redact information – like student names or academic records, for instance – that's protected by federal privacy laws. Once the document has been reviewed and redacted, UNC has pledged to release it to the public.
Q. So does this mean UNC knows which sports could be affected by the investigation, and which teams could be subject to penalties?
A. Yes. UNC officials now know, at least, what they're up against in terms of violations. The university now knows what sports are involved, from an NCAA violations standpoint, and which ones are the most likely to be penalized.
Q. But any speculation about those penalties would be just that, right – speculation?
A. Exactly. There's an entirely different process in place to handle the penalty phase part of the investigation.
Q. So what now? What happens next?
A. UNC has 90 days to respond the Notice of Allegations. That response will come in the form of a written document that's sent back to the NCAA. When Miami went through a lengthy NCAA investigation of its own, it posted a helpful guide to the NCAA investigative process. It's a good resource. UNC in its response could argue against the NCAA enforcement staff's findings, and UNC could also include any self-imposed penalties. UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham has said that UNC would not be self-imposing penalties. As Miami's guide to the process points out, too, an institution could decide to agree with the allegations and proceed straight to the Committee on Infractions, but it seems unlikely that UNC would go that route.
Q. So we're looking at another three months of this case dragging on?
A. Actually, we're looking at it dragging on a while longer than that.
Q. How so? What happens after UNC responds in 90 days?
A. After UNC submits its response, the case would then go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. But it wouldn't happen all that quickly. We can use the first NCAA investigation at UNC – the one into impermissible benefits and academic fraud within the football program – as a rough guide for the expected timeline. In that case, UNC received its Notice of Allegations on June 21, 2011. It responded to the Notice of Allegations on Sept. 19, 2011. Then UNC appeared before the Committee on Infractions on Oct. 28, 2011, and it received the committee's ruling on March 12, 2012.
Q. So based on that timeline is it reasonable to expect a ruling, say, around March 2016?
A. That'd be reasonable based on the 2011-12 investigative timeline. But it all depends on how quickly the case moves before the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The committee meets several times per year, and while it appears likely that UNC would go before the infractions committee at some point in the fall, it's too early to know the exact date. If there's a delay in going before the infractions committee, that would delay the ultimate ruling, as well.
Q. And so what’s going to happen, ultimately? Are banners coming down? Will there be postseason bans?
A. Who knows. My guess: There will be disappointment in the sanctions, ultimately, on both sides. Disappointment from the people who think they’re not severe enough, and disappointment from those who think they’re too severe. As bad as the misdeeds at UNC were, this is a difficult case for the NCAA to handle. There’s a reason the NCAA was extremely hesitant to become involved in this case, and that reason is this: for all it talks about the educational aspect of its mission, the NCAA wants no part in regulating the actual quality of education that college athletes receive. And to a large degree that’s what the case at UNC is most about: athletes receiving academic credit for bogus classes that required little actual work. The whole thing was a sham and it stunk and it was embarrassing, but the NCAA wants no part in regulating the legitimacy of courses at member institutions. That’s not what it does.