Luke DeCock

Harsh words between UNC, NCAA signal new phase of scandal — DeCock

Wainstein describes lack of oversight by UNC

Investigator Kenneth Wainstein describes a lack of oversight by UNC while outlining his investigation into academic issues and athletics. Wainstein was presenting his findings during a 2014 press conference held by UNC.
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Investigator Kenneth Wainstein describes a lack of oversight by UNC while outlining his investigation into academic issues and athletics. Wainstein was presenting his findings during a 2014 press conference held by UNC.

Sports comes at you fast around here. You take a couple weeks off and the Hurricanes have turned the three-goal lead into the single most dangerous scenario in competitive athletics, N.C. State football continues to confound, the Coastal Division remains in chaos and Duke basketball’s national title hopes may or may not have taken a significant hit with another injury to another prized freshman.

Still, leave for two weeks or two years, and the UNC scandal is always lurking. The NCAA’s response to North Carolina’s rather dismissive response to the revised Notice of Allegations – this entire scandal has become a living, breathing footnote – redacted and released this week ahead of Friday’s procedural hearing in Indianapolis, was as petulant in its own way as North Carolina’s response.

If UNC’s message could be boiled down to “get off my lawn,” the essence of the NCAA’s was “get over yourself,” dismissing North Carolina’s carefully crafted legal arguments while several times grumbling that the issues at hand involving jurisdiction and standing had already been addressed privately with the university. The all-too-obvious implication was that the NCAA saw UNC’s response as mere public posturing – and the NCAA was none too happy about that particular airing of dirty laundry.

North Carolina’s August response to the NOA was a challenge to the very authority of the NCAA in these matters. The NCAA’s response, dated Sept. 19, is a reassertion of that authority wrapped around a general rebuke of North Carolina’s conduct, as what had been for more than six years a largely collegial process has now appeared to descend into open bureaucratic warfare.

Friday’s hearing, which will address only those issues and not the merits of the case, promises to be wonderful theater, if only it were open to the public.

North Carolina is probably right about the macro – by the NCAA’s own bylaws and public statements, it has, and desires, limited influence over academics, or as it often prefers, “curriculum” – but the NCAA is once again trying to carve out exceptions on a micro level, a strategy employed on a grand scale in the original Notice of Allegations, largely absent from the revised NOA and resurrected here to counter UNC’s unexpectedly combative defense.

More significant, though, is how this latest salvo of nasty legalese signals a continuing change in tone in these proceedings, veering away from the cooperation that had existed between North Carolina and the NCAA since Day 1 AM (After Marvin). There have been disagreements, to be sure, but cooperation is at the heart of the NCAA enforcement process and has been a critical mitigating factor for UNC in its robust interactions with the NCAA.

In this response, the NCAA calls that relationship into question, at one point claiming North Carolina “wholly mischaracterized the nature of the allegations” in its response and at another all but accusing North Carolina of withholding information in 2011.

North Carolina’s defense also included considerable discussion of the inadmissibility of the Wainstein Report because interviews were not conducted according to NCAA procedures. The NCAA in response noted with palpable condescension that it was largely depending on exhibits in the Wainstein Report – incriminating emails and slideshows for football coaching staffs and the like – and pointed out North Carolina’s unfettered use of the Wainstein Report in non-NCAA matters before moving on to a more direct scolding: “The attempt to exclude this document,” the NCAA wrote, “appears only to be an effort to omit information the institution believes to be damaging in this context.”

That was all part of the NCAA’s larger dissatisfaction with North Carolina for indulging in an existential approach to the case while largely declining to address the material claims among the allegations. These changing circumstances may bode poorly for the university down the road. The NCAA has never been shy about bringing all weapons to bear on targets it considers uncooperative.

If things have truly turned adversarial, this is increasingly an all-or-nothing proposition for UNC.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was extensively investigated by the NCAA for a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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