On Monday, UNC-Chapel Hill will produce a written response to the five major allegations the NCAA’s enforcement division filed in its investigation of the long-running academic-athletic scandal. It’s not expected to be made public for several more days.
Like all NCAA investigations, it is a case that is being conducted behind closed doors. But UNC’s response to charges surrounding the system of classes advertised as lectures that never met and provided good grades should shed more light on how the NCAA views the case and how UNC is defending itself.
Here are six things to look for in UNC’s response:
1. How is UNC describing the fake classes to the NCAA?
UNC has described the classes in various reports as “anomalous,” “aberrant” or “irregular,” but not “fraudulent.” This is important because the NCAA has a bylaw that bars anyone at a university from arranging “fraudulent” academic credit.
That would appear to be what Deborah Crowder, a clerical employee, did when she created classes that didn’t meet, had no professor and provided a high grade if a paper was turned in. But the NCAA didn’t file that charge against Crowder or her boss, Julius Nyang’oro, who admitted to creating a few more of those classes after Crowder retired.
Some have contended the NCAA lacks the jurisdiction to make the call if a class was fake. If so, can the NCAA attack a scheme that helped keep dozens of athletes eligible over an 18-year-period if UNC won’t call it a fraud? The NCAA is trying, by accusing UNC of two violations – failure to monitor and lack of institutional control – for failing to stop the classes.
2. Will UNC again contend that all students had equal access to the classes?
NCAA officials initially balked at investigating the scandal, saying it was unclear if the classes were largely created to help athletes stay eligible. The NCAA jumped in as Kenneth Wainstein’s investigation began showing close connections between Crowder and the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes. The NCAA told UNC in the notice that athletes had “increased exposure” to the classes, which helped trigger the charge of lack of institutional control. UNC could have to contradict some of Wainstein’s findings if it again asserts that the bogus classes had nothing to do with athletics. Of the 3,100 students enrolled, nearly half were athletes, far outweighing athletes’ 4 percent proportion of the student body.
3. Who will UNC identify as guilty parties, and how were those people handled?
The NCAA has asked UNC to report any punitive actions, and any disciplinary actions against former or current athletics staff. One typical move universities make in this situation is to send disassociation letters to the rule-breakers, telling them to stay away from the athletic programs. UNC in recent months has not responded to requests for such letters.
4. How does UNC respond to exhibits in the notice that cast men’s basketball and football in a bad light?
One is an email exchange between Crowder and the former counselor for men’s basketball, Wayne Walden, in which he’s seeking a safe class for an athlete with learning disabilities. The other is a PowerPoint presentation for football coaches that warns them of the loss of Crowder’s classes. Both were unearthed in Wainstein’s investigation, and are now being used to support the allegations of failure to monitor and lack of institutional control.
5. Will UNC offer any help to Jan Boxill?
She’s the former faculty leader who served as the academic counselor to women’s basketball, and is accused in the notice of unethical conduct for providing improper academic help to some of those players. Boxill contends she did nothing wrong, and says the emails cited as evidence were taken out of context. UNC notified the NCAA about Boxill last year after reviewing records that had been requested by The News & Observer and The Daily Tar Heel. UNC’s stance on Boxill’s conduct vs. that of Crowder and Nyang’oro could be telling if the university labels her actions as academic misconduct and impermissible extra benefits, but doesn’t do the same with those who created and ran the bogus classes. UNC forced Boxill to retire shortly after Wainstein’s findings.
6) Will there be signs of a settlement?
This is the second notice of allegations the NCAA sent to UNC in the case, and it appears more lenient than the first. The second notice dropped a specific mention of football and men’s basketball – the two sports that had the highest use of the fake classes – and limited its reach regarding the classes to a six-year-period that begins in the fall of 2005. That’s just beyond the 2005 men’s basketball championship season that had high numbers of athlete enrollments in the sham classes.
UNC could accept the findings and negotiate penalties that the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions might agree to without conducting a hearing, a process known as a summary disposition. Boxill would also have to consent to the process.
In 2011, UNC accepted the NCAA’s findings with the football program and offered to self impose penalties, but the case did not go to a summary disposition. The committee came down harder than what UNC had hoped, adding a one-year bowl ban to the fine, loss of scholarships, probation and vacated victories that UNC had proposed.
The five allegations
▪ Unethical conduct against Jan Boxill, former faculty leader and academic counselor to the women’s basketball team, for providing impermissible academic help.
▪ Unethical conduct against Deborah Crowder, former African studies department manager, for failing to cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation
▪ Unethical conduct against Julius Nyang’oro, former African studies department chairman, for failing to cooperate with the NCAA’s investigation.
▪ Failure to monitor against UNC for failing to root out “anomalous” classes and catch Boxill’s misconduct.
▪ Lack of institutional control against UNC for failing to properly supervise the African studies department and the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes.
If there’s no deal made to avoid an infractions hearing, the NCAA’s enforcement division has up to 60 days to review UNC’s response. Once that’s done, the infractions committee needs at least 30 days to review all written materials in the case before holding a hearing. A decision on penalties would likely come in early 2017.