UNC academic scandal explained
It has been close to a year since the NCAA released its first notice of allegations in the University of North Carolina’s fake class scandal. A lot has happened since then – additional misconduct claims, more information about a key allegation in the notice, and a tournament run by the men’s basketball team that was dashed in the final seconds by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
NCAA officials say a new notice is close to being released. Here are some key things to look for when it becomes public:
Q: Will it contain the additional allegations brought forward by UNC?
A: UNC stopped the clock on the NCAA’s infractions process in August when it said it found new issues involving Jan Boxill and the men’s soccer team. UNC said the allegations involving Boxill, a former faculty leader and academic counselor to women’s basketball players, involve more instances of improper academic help. That could mean more evidence bolstering an alleged unethical conduct infraction against Boxill, as well as the lack of institutional control and impermissible benefits infractions the university faces. The issues with men’s soccer appeared to involve improper recruiting, which had little apparent connection to the fake class scandal.
Q: Will it contain something entirely new?
A: The lengthy delay could mean the NCAA has come across something that wasn’t previously known. During the delay, UNC has released several hundred thousand pages of records that had been provided to Kenneth Wainstein for his investigation. Those documents might lead to more exhibits shoring up the NCAA’s case, or additional allegations against the university and individuals involved in the scandal.
Q: Will the NCAA again choose not to pursue academic misconduct infractions?
A: The first notice charged UNC with giving athletes across many sports, particularly football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball “special access” to “anomalous” courses. In other words, the NCAA made it an “impermissible benefits” case in which athletes received benefits not generally available to the entire student body. Since then, the agency that accredits UNC has described the courses as fraudulent, saying UNC violated “academic integrity” standards. The NCAA has said it’s the school’s call as to whether academic misconduct occurred, which infers that UNC has declined to do that. But an academic fraud determination by UNC’s accrediting agency might pave the way for the NCAA to make this an academic misconduct case.
Q: Will others be accused of infractions?
A: The first notice only identified Boxill, former African studies department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and his former office manager Deborah Crowder as guilty parties. In the case of Crowder and Nyang’oro, the charge related to their noncooperation with the NCAA’s investigation. Wainstein’s report identified several other individuals who were culpable in the scandal, most of them in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes. It’s unclear why the NCAA didn’t cite them for unethical conduct.
Q: Will the NCAA again accept UNC’s position as to when it created a limit on independent studies?
A: Last month, the News & Observer reported UNC had little evidence to show the 12-hour limit on independent studies students could take were first placed in 2006. If those limits had been in place for many years earlier, as other evidence shows, the number of athletes who exceeded them through fake classes – and therefore received an impermissible benefit – appears to jump from 10 to 150, according to an NCAA evaluation of athlete transcripts.
Q: Will coach Roy Williams’ speculation about the new notice bear out?
A: On the eve of the men’s basketball championship, Williams told ESPN he didn’t think men’s basketball would face any trouble when the new notice is released. “I don’t think we’re going to get hit in any way at all,” Williams said. “Hard to penalize somebody when you have no allegations against them.”
The first notice alleged men’s basketball players received impermissible benefits from the classes. Records indicate they were enrolled in fake classes at the scandal’s outset, and in heavy numbers during the 2004-05 season that ended in a national championship.
Q: Will the new notice reflect enough change to convince some fans the NCAA wasn’t trying to give UNC an opportunity to win a national championship?
A: UNC’s men’s basketball is one of the nation’s marquee programs, and the team came into the season as the favorite to win it all. Fans from other schools speculated the delay was staged to let the team compete for a championship. A new notice that’s insignificantly different from the first is likely to fuel fan concerns that UNC receives special treatment.