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For UNC’s long NCAA investigation, an ending nears

There is, at last, perhaps an end in sight to UNC-Chapel Hill’s long-running NCAA investigation. The university on Tuesday submitted its response to another NCAA notice of allegations and, barring another delay – and there have already been several – the university will likely appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in August.

That is, at least, if all goes according to schedule. Few things have in an investigation into years of African Studies courses that UNC’s accrediting agency found to be fraudulent. The NCAA investigation has focused on how those courses benefited athletes, who enrolled in disproportionate numbers and were found to have received high grades in return for little work.

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham, speaking to reporters on Wednesday at the ACC’s annual spring meetings, declined to expound on UNC’s response. The university, though, has engaged in a combative argument with the NCAA Enforcement Staff over the application of NCAA bylaws, and the NCAA’s lack of jurisdiction, according to its own rules, over matters specific to academic instruction.

Asked on Wednesday about the perception of an ongoing fight with the NCAA, Cunningham said, “I think we want to answer all those questions when we release (the response) and we’re more prepared to answer a variety of questions. But we followed the protocols, and we’ll continue to do that.”

UNC’s response to the third NOA has not yet been released publicly. It will be, Cunningham said, during the next 10 to 14 days, after the document is redacted. Once it’s released, UNC’s defense will become clearer. The university is facing five Level I allegations of misconduct – which the NCAA considers the most serious – including a lack of institutional control.

In correspondence during the past several months, UNC’s legal team and NCAA officials have exchanged argumentative letters in which the university has questioned the NCAA’s changing approach to the investigation. The enforcement staff has sent three notices of allegations to UNC, and all of them have differed in important ways. The most recent one has been considered the most severe.

In it, the enforcement staff alleges that “many” academically “at-risk” athletes, particularly in football and men’s basketball, used the fraudulent classes to maintain their eligibility. The inclusion of football and men’s basketball in the third NOA could leave those sports open to NCAA sanctions, though it is impossible to predict what those penalties might include.

Those two sports were not mentioned in the second NOA. Cunningham said the response that UNC submitted on Tuesday is “pretty lengthy.”

If the case follows a traditional timeline from here, though, it could conclude sometime in late fall. If UNC does indeed appear before the infractions committee in August, then it would likely take approximately three or four months for the committee to issue its final ruling, which would include any penalties. The university would then have an opportunity to appeal.

“Everyone wants to get it to completion,” Cunningham said. “Sometimes it takes longer than you hope, longer than you anticipate. And certainly, this is one of those. But it’ll get there at some point. It has been long, so we’re looking forward to bringing it to closure.”

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

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