UNC academic scandal explained
A new list of NCAA allegations against UNC-Chapel Hill brings men’s basketball and football back into the picture, expands the time frame of violations and deepens the potential penalties for a scheme of bogus classes that benefited athletes.
The third version of the NCAA’s charges was released Thursday by UNC.
This set of allegations is tougher than the first two, adding a violation of unethical conduct and providing extra benefits against the two architects of the bogus class scheme, Deborah Crowder and Julius Nyang’oro. It says UNC and its athletics department “leveraged the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to obtain special arrangements for student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation.”
“Many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility,” the notice said.
The NCAA said the improper conduct occurred from fall 2002 to the end of summer 2011, a time frame that includes two UNC men’s basketball championships. The 2005 championship involved athletes who had taken many of the fake classes.
The new notice replaces any previous notice of violations, but it is largely unchanged with regard to four charges that include lack of institutional control; most of the NCAA’s exhibits are the same. The allegation of unethical conduct and extra benefits replaces a more lenient failure-to-monitor violation from the second set of allegations.
The second set of allegations was more favorable to UNC, and it did not mention football and men’s basketball. UNC, however, fought those allegations by directly challenging the NCAA’s jurisdiction. After a rare procedural hearing in October with the Committee on Infractions, the tougher set of allegations was sent to UNC on Dec. 13.
Cunningham: Process unfair
UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said in a news conference that the university would fight the new allegations. He called the process unfair, and said the infractions committee had overstepped its bounds by encouraging the enforcement staff to consider filing a third notice after the hearing.
“You can’t chase things just because you have an opinion,” Cunningham said. “You’ve got to follow the bylaws.”
The committee has the latitude under NCAA bylaws to add or subtract violations based on the evidence, and has done so in past cases.
The new notice appears to address concerns that experts raised in the first and second notices of allegations. The first notice had an impermissible benefits allegation addressing the fake classes, but that violation typically pertains to cash, cars and other tangible perks.
The new notice makes a stronger tie to academic misconduct by charging that Crowder and Nyang’oro had acted unethically in offering the classes and working with the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes to help athletes register for them.
“Although general students also took the anomalous courses, Crowder and Nyang’oro worked closely and directly with athletics,” the new notice said.
Stuart Brown, an Atlanta lawyer who specializes in NCAA cases, said the newest notice provides a more solid framework for the case, but the fact that the NCAA has used a different bylaw in each notice gives UNC grounds to claim the process isn’t fair.
“The notion that it took three notices of allegation to get one that put (the case) in a cohesive package is a good one for Carolina to say the NCAA kept shooting bullets until they finally hit us with one,” Brown said.
A longer fight
The new notice is the latest turn in a more than five-year saga that began in 2011, when The News & Observer reported that a transcript showed an incoming freshman football player had been enrolled in an upper-level African studies class and received a high grade. That transcript ultimately exposed 18 years of fake classes, most of them created by Crowder, a clerical employee in the African and Afro-American Studies Department.
Roughly half of the more than 3,100 students enrolled were athletes, with football and men’s basketball having the highest enrollments per team.
UNC called in the NCAA immediately, but after both spent roughly a month interviewing witnesses, the NCAA did not open an infractions case. Officials did not view the scandal as athletics-related because non-athletes had gotten into the classes and received the same high grades.
That view changed in 2014, as a UNC-backed investigation led by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein was underway. That investigation had the cooperation of Crowder and Nyang’oro, and exposed deep ties to the classes within the athletes’ academic support program.
The new notice will likely push an end to the case well into 2017.
“I did have one goal and I’m going to have to change it,” men’s basketball coach Roy Williams said of the new notice Wednesday night. “I’d hoped that the NCAA thing would be over before I’m retired. And now I’m hoping it will be over before I die.”
Taking their time
The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions sent a letter dated Nov. 28 to UNC-Chapel Hill explaining its decision to reject the university’s position that the academic fraud case should be dismissed because of due process issues. Two days later, The News & Observer asked for “any documentation that has since emerged from the NCAA and the (infractions committee) that relates to the case.”
Twelve days went by without a response. After another query from The N&O, university vice chancellor Joel Curran said a letter had been received. He did not explain what it was but said it would be forwarded to UNC’s public records office for processing. A day later, on Dec. 13, UNC received a new notice of allegations from the NCAA.
The letter didn’t become public until Thursday, along with the notice of allegations. The seven-page letter has a few small redactions.