Investigations

Two congressmen challenge NCAA’s handling of UNC academic fraud

Two congressmen want more information from the NCAA in the wake of a lengthy report into UNC’s academic fraud scandal that found it was largely driven by a need to keep athletes eligible to play sports.

Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Tony Cardenas of California want the NCAA to explain how its practice of staying out of academic fraud cases if they involve all students promotes the NCAA’s mission to “maintain intercollegiate athletics as an integral part of the educational program and the athlete as an integral part of the student body.”

UNC had been maintaining for two years that the fake classes at the heart of the long-running fraud were not driven by athletics because nonathletes had the same access to them and received the same high grades. But the report by a team of lawyers led by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein found the classes were largely created to help keep athletes eligible, and that several counselors in the athletes’ tutoring program knew the classes had no instruction.

Cummings and Cardenas, two Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Governmental Reform, asked the NCAA earlier this year about the UNC case. In a response the congressmen made public today, the NCAA said it doesn’t get involved if the fraud equally benefited athletes and nonathletes.

“The NCAA will not penalize a student-athlete for taking a course available to all students,” said the NCAA’s letter, dated June 13.

The congressmen questioned that practice.

“The NCAA’s response suggests that participation by non-student-athletes in ‘no-show’ classes somehow inoculates NCAA member institutions from sanctions by their governing body,” Cummings and Cardenas wrote.

The NCAA initially investigated the fake classes in the fall of 2011, shortly after The News & Observer revealed the scandal by obtaining the transcript of a star football player. But the NCAA did not hit UNC with any violations. It never fully explained why.

Two weeks after the NCAA’s letter to the congressmen, the NCAA returned to UNC’s campus to reopen the investigation, based on new information from Wainstein’s probe.

The letters are attached.

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