NCAA: No punishment for UNC athletics in academic scandal
Posted 10:00 a.m. Friday
Updated 4:54 p.m. Friday
Chapel Hill, N.C. — In a long-anticipated ruling, the NCAA on Friday said it "could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules" in years of paper classes. The NCAA found, as UNC has argued, that the classes benefited all students, not primarily student-athletes.
The NCAA Committee on Infractions found that it was more likely than not that student-athletes benefited from paper classes, earning grades which kept them eligible, and that it was likely that some UNC personnel knew about those courses and used them to keep athletes eligible.
But, because the courses, when offered, did not violate UNC's internal standards, the NCAA could not find academic fraud.
"What happened was troubling, and I think that's been acknowledged by many different parties, but the panel applied the memberships' bylaws to the facts. And, albeit over time positions shifted and we were skeptical of positions taken, the panel couldn't conclude that violations happened. That's reality," said Greg Sankey, the SEC commissioner who chaired the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in the case.
Because the university continues to honors the grades earned in the courses in question and the degrees that resulted, the COI could not conclude that academic fraud occurred.
The NCAA, which had issued five allegations against UNC, ultimately found only two violations – a lack of cooperation from Julius Nyang’oro, the long-time chairman of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, and his assistant, Deborah Crowder.
In its report, the NCAA referred to Nyang’oro and Crowder as "the only two individuals who knew the full extent of what occurred at UNC."
Sankey said, "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's conclusion essentially echoed the argument that UNC had been making for years.
In May, in its response to the NCAA allegations, UNC wrote, "The issues concerning the courses are academic in nature and beyond the reach of the NCAA bylaws."
"NCAA policy is clear," Sankey said Friday. "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 document includes six pages of explication of why the NCAA was unable to find that UNC paper classes unfairly and only helped student-athletes. Crowder, who did speak to the Committee on Infractions after years of silence in the case, "credibly explained that she provided the same degree of assistance to UNC students in need, regardless of their student-athlete status," the NCAA wrote.
Crowder's attorney, Elliot S. Abrams, on Friday praised the NCAA decision and his client.
"Ms. Crowder was a lifetime public servant who treated all students equal and worked tirelessly to provide appropriate academic opportunities to all students," Abrams said.
"We are also grateful that the Infractions Committee has recognized that the NCAA should not encroach upon universities’ and professors’ discretion to determine how best to teach their students."
The NCAA issued a sole punishment, a "show cause" against Nyang'oro, which bans the now-retired professor from teaching at another NCAA school.
Seven years of investigation end without athletic sanctions for UNC
It all started in 2010, with some indulgent football players, who cashed in, literally, on their soon-to-be pro status, accepting gifts, trips and money in violation of the NCAA's rules on amateurism.
When the smoke had cleared, four players – Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, Greg Little and Michael McAdoo – were dismissed from the team, the coach was fired, the director of athletics retired and the university paid a price; a $50,000 fine, a postseason ban for the football team and the forfeiture of all 16 wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Austin, Quinn and Little would go on to play in the NFL. (Only Little is still in the league.) But it would be McAdoo's story that endures.
After the NCAA ruled McAdoo ineligible for receiving improper assistance from tutor Jennifer Wiley on multiple assignments across several academic terms, he sued the university to get back on the team. Among his court documents were work samples, including a paper written for class in the Department of Afro- and Afro-American Studies taught by then-department head Julius Nyang’oro.
That paper was revealed to be largely reproduced from other sources, casting doubt on not only McAdoo's academic accomplishments but the department and the university at large.
UNC, seeking the truth, sponsored three internal investigations, culminating in the Wainstein Report, which found changed grades, classes that never met and improper assistance for thousands of students, about half of them athletes, over a span of 18 years.
The NCAA reacted with a second investigation of their own, and for the past three years, UNC and the NCAA have been at odds over the organization's right to Friday's punishment. The fight has included plenty of back and forth and three different Notices of Allegations from the NCAA.
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.