More than three years after the NCAA began its investigation, it’s judgment day for North Carolina athletics in general and Tar Heels football specifically. And by “judgment” we mean “very light tap on the wrist and a stern chiding.”
In its long-anticipated ruling released Friday morning, the NCAA announced that its Committee On Infractions panel had determined that it “could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules when it made available deficient Department of African and Afro-American Studies ‘paper courses’ to the general student body, including student-athletes.” The key passage from the NCAA’s release on its findings?
“While student-athletes likely benefited from the courses, so did the general student body. Additionally, the record did not establish that the university created and offered the courses as part of a systemic effort to benefit only student-athletes,” COI chief hearing officer and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey stated.
UNC officials, including head coach Larry Fedora, appeared before the COI nearly three months after, for the third time in as many years, the university responded to a Notice of Allegations connected to the decade-long academic scandal.
In June of 2014, the NCAA informed UNC “that it would reopen its original 2011 examination of the past academic irregularities.” The first NOA was sent to the university in 2015, with UNC accused of lack of institutional control as to student-athletes in multiple sports, including football, receiving preferential access to the controversial African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) courses dating all the way back to 2002. In April of 2016, UNC received an amended NOA that replaced “lack of institutional control” with “failure to monitor.”
That original 2011 investigation resulted in the UNC football program being slapped with a postseason ban for the 2012 season and the reduction of 15 scholarships over a three-year period as well as other sanctions, including vacating of wins, in the impermissible benefits/academic fraud scandal that ended Butch Davis‘ tenure at the school.
“While student-athletes likely benefited from the so-called ‘paper courses’ offered by North Carolina, the information available in the record did not establish that the courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” Sankey said in a portion of his statement. “The panel is troubled by the university’s shifting positions about whether academic fraud occurred on its campus and the credibility of the Cadwalader report, which it distanced itself from after initially supporting the findings. However, NCAA policy is clear. The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred and, ultimately, the panel is bound to making decisions within the rules set by the membership.”
The COI did find that a pair of violations were committed in the case, with both coming after the fact as the former department chair and a former curriculum secretary failed to cooperate during the investigation.
To summarize the NCAA’s response…