Luke DeCock

NCAA allegations will be hard on UNC, but not most individuals

Jan Boxill (center) listens to new UNC Chancellor Carol Folt's remarks during Folt's installation ceremony in October of 2013.
Jan Boxill (center) listens to new UNC Chancellor Carol Folt's remarks during Folt's installation ceremony in October of 2013. 2013 News & Observer file photo

The people – other than Jan Boxill, who had to know it was coming – got off relatively easy.

The university, and its athletics teams, could be in big trouble.

The NCAA’s notice of allegations to North Carolina comes down very harshly on the academic fraud as an impermissible benefit to athletes, essentially arguing that it provided the Tar Heels with a competitive advantage. And it slaps the university for “lack of institutional control,” the harshest accusation the NCAA can make, one that comes with the harshest sanctions.

But it does not specifically cite nor call to testify any coaches, academic advisers or athletics-department administrators beyond Boxill, whose conduct is a major focus of the allegations. Not Roy Williams. Not Butch Davis or John Bunting. Not Mike Fox. Not Anson Dorrance. Not Bubba Cunningham or Dick Baddour.

Not even Sylvia Hatchell, whose women’s basketball program is frequently mentioned because of Boxill’s dual role in participating in the scandal while serving as academic adviser for the team. That program is in big trouble, because Boxill “knowingly provided extra benefits in the form of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball student-athletes,” according to the NCAA.

By declining to specifically cite anyone beyond Boxill, Deborah Crowder or Julius Nyang’Oro – the latter two the administrator and professor in the department responsible for overseeing the majority of the academic fraud, the formerly named Department of African and Afro-American Studies – the NCAA essentially drew the line of blame well short of the coaches, let alone the academic-advising staff.

But by choosing to define the academic fraud as an impermissible benefit, and charge North Carolina with a lack of institutional control, the NCAA opened the door to significant across-the-board punishments for the university.

The NCAA had, while defending itself against lawsuits filed over the phony classes, disclaimed responsibility for overseeing the quality of education at its member institutions. President Mark Emmert made the same argument at the Final Four, that no one wants the NCAA overseeing curriculum.

When it came time to assess what happened at North Carolina, though, the NCAA equated the academic fraud to a free car from an auto dealer or a no-show job: “impermissible benefits to student-athletes that were not generally available to the student body.”

Seen in that light, and combined with the allegation of lack of institutional control, this probably doesn’t bode well for UNC as a whole.

The severity of the NCAA’s discipline will have to wait for North Carolina’s response and the decision of the Committee on Infractions, but since the exhibits specifically mention several different sports, from men’s basketball and football to women’s basketball, baseball, women’s soccer, softball, field hockey, women’s tennis and women’s track, the penalties could be far-reaching.

That could include loss of scholarships, postseason bans and vacated wins for individual sports, all of which the NCAA has applied in past instances of lack of institutional control. Or it might not. With the NCAA, no one ever knows.

“We’ve had multiple conversations with the NCAA,” said Cunningham, the current UNC athletics director. “I’ve read an awful lot of cases. Each and every case is unique. Our set of facts is unique and different from everyone else.”

During a 2010 case involving Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the NCAA cited the school for lack of institutional control after an academic adviser allowed ineligible athletes to participate in 14 different sports. The school was penalized with scholarship restrictions and was forced to vacate wins. Those infractions were less significant, smaller in scope and over a much shorter time period than what the NCAA alleges happened at North Carolina.

Miami, which was hit with a lack of institutional control finding for what could be considered more traditional impermissible benefits involving a booster, self-imposed a two-year postseason ban for football before the NCAA added scholarship reductions in football and men’s basketball.

What happens next will depend on North Carolina’s response and how seriously the Committee on Infractions views the allegations. For the moment, there’s good news in here for a few individuals at North Carolina, but it may not be as good for the school or its athletics teams.

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

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