Luke DeCock

UNC allegations will offer window into NCAA’s worldview

Since North Carolina is going to spend its holiday weekend sitting by the pool and redacting names from the Notice of Allegations it received from the NCAA on Friday, all we know about what’s in the letter is that it’s “lengthy.”

As well it should be.

After years of investigation – by the NCAA, by The News & Observer and, finally, by the university itself – everyone has a pretty good idea of what’s going to be in there: the final reckoning for 18 years of academic fraud that included athletes from all over the athletic department.

And no matter what’s in there, a scandal that in less than a month will turn 5 years old finally has an end in sight. The university has 90 days to respond to the NCAA, and budget for nine months or so of wrangling with the Committee on Infractions, but by this time next year, there’s a pretty good chance whatever sanctions the NCAA hands down will be finalized, or close to it.

What no one knows, and what the notice will finally reveal, is how the NCAA feels about all this.

That may be the biggest mystery left, because lately the NCAA has been trying to carve out as much wiggle room as possible, in part because it has been dragged into court over this very issue.

In a filing responding to a lawsuit filed by former North Carolina athletes that alleges the university was in breach of contract by failing to provide athletes a legitimate education, and that the NCAA was negligent in its oversight, the NCAA argued that it had no responsibility for the “quality of education” athletes received.

At the Final Four in Indianapolis, NCAA President Mark Emmert elaborated on the court filing, saying “the academic quality of what’s transpiring in a classroom … is not a role an association should be playing,” putting that responsibility on individual institutions.

“It’s ultimately up to universities to determine whether or not the courses for which they’re giving credit, the degrees for which they’re passing out diplomas, live up to the academic standards of higher education,” Emmert said.

But Emmert also noted that the NCAA’s member schools had taken a stand against “impermissible benefits around academics,” that athletes should not be treated any differently from other students. In that respect, fake classes are no different than agents paying assistant coaches or tutors writing papers or players taking gifts. North Carolina was previously punished for all of that.

The NCAA will put what happened at North Carolina falls into one of two categories: It’s either shoddy curriculum, which isn’t – and shouldn’t – be under the NCAA’s purview, or it’s academic fraud perpetrated for the benefit of athletes.

If the NCAA still wants to be taken seriously, at least as much as it can be, it has to be the latter.

The university, in the wake of the Wainstein report, finally dismissed the ludicrous conclusions of the Martin report that “this was not an athletic scandal.” Of course it was. The fact that a student-non-athlete or two found his or her way into a paper class now and then did not take away from the reason why this fraud ran so deep and lived so long.

The entire goal was to keep athletes, many of them admitted despite being unable to meet the same academic standards as their peers, eligible under university and NCAA guidelines. The entire goal was to make North Carolina’s athletic teams as competitive as possible by sidestepping academic constraints.

No one wants the NCAA telling universities how to teach classes. But the NCAA absolutely should be telling universities not to put its athletes in fake classes.

The Notice of Allegations that North Carolina now has in hand will reveal just how serious the NCAA is about that responsibility.

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

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