Coaches, administrators make UNC's case to NCAA behind closed doors
Posted August 16
Nashville, Tenn. — The closed-door hearing for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in front of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions began on time at 9:30 a.m. in Nashville Wednesday. It is expected to last the better part of two days.
The hearing is the latest in the years-long NCAA investigation into UNC after an internal probe found that student-athletes were given preferential treatment in the classroom and were specifically steered by academic counselors toward classes in the African- and Afro-American Studies Department that rarely met and required only a paper to pass.
UNC has argued that its own investigation and steps taken to remedy the findings of the resulting Wainstein Report should be enough, and that the NCAA does not have the right to punish the university for a scandal that UNC says was primarily academic and did not provide specific benefits to student-athletes.
Deborah Crowder who, as an administrative assistant in the Department of African- and Afro-American Studies, was at the center of the bogus classes claims, was the first to arrive Wednesday morning.
She was followed by Jan Boxill, who was an academic advisor for the women's basketball team and whose name is prominent in the NCAA's allegations against UNC.
Boxill waited outside the door for women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell, and they entered the meeting room together.
UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham, Chancellor Carol Folt and coaches Larry Fedora and Roy Williams showed up about two minutes before the hearing convened. It is standard practice for head coaches of programs referenced in a notice of allegations to attend.
Outside the room, UNC Sports Information Director Steve Kirschner said he had no idea how long Wednesday's session would last, and that he didn't expect any of the participants to speak to the media.
It could be months before UNC learns the outcome of the hearing and even longer before the university can put the whole ugly era in the rearview mirror. The NCAA could hand down a punishment that requires the Tar Heels to forfeit wins, limit scholarships, pay a fine or serve a term on probation.
After they learn their punishment, UNC could decide to appeal through the NCAA process or even go to court.
In the end, any penalty will be paid by student-athletes and some coaches and administrators who were not present in Chapel Hill when the violations occurred.
Cunningham has defined the question of this hearing as whether the NCAA has any right to punish the school for fake classes that enrolled and benefited student-athletes and non-athletes alike.
“The fundamental issue in our case is if the NCAA bylaws cover athletics matters, not how academics are managed," Cunningham has said.
"The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts is that the Department of Athletics at the University of Chapel Hill took advantage of 'fake classes' in the department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record," the university wrote in response to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations.
The NCAA has alleged five Level 1 infractions against UNC, including lack of institutional control.
The Committee on Infractions, a panel of volunteers that includes representatives of NCAA member institutions and conferences and individuals from the general public who have legal training, is authorized under NCAA bylaws to "find facts, conclude violations of NCAA legislation, prescribe appropriate penalties."
UNC is expected to argue that new bylaws passed by the NCAA in August 2016 that expand the association's reach into academics should not apply to this case because any infractions occurred before the regulatory changes.
"The issues concerning the courses are academic in nature and beyond the reach of the NCAA bylaws," the university wrote. "The Panel should not apply new and novel standards to penalize the University based on rules that did not exist when the conduct in question took place."
In May, the NCAA sent a response to the university that read, in part:
"When a member institution allows an academic department to provide benefits to student-athletes that are materially different from the general student body, it is the NCAA's business.
When athletics academic counselors exploit 'special arrangement' classes for student-athletes in ways unintended by and contrary to the bylaws, it is the NCAA's business.
When a member institution provides student-athletes an inside track to enroll in unpublicized courses where grades of As and Bs are the norm, it is the NCAA's business.
When a member institution uses 'special arrangement' courses to keep a significant number of student-athletes eligible, it is the NCAA's business.
When a member institution fails or refuses to take action after receiving actual notice of problems involving student-athletes, thereby allowing violations to compound and to continue for years, it is the NCAA's business."