NCAA hearing hardly the end of UNC's troubles
Posted August 16
Chapel Hill, N.C. — In a hearing years in the making, representatives of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill make their case this week before the NCAA Committee on Infractions, the body that can penalize the university for the years-long academic scandal that tarnished the vaunted "Carolina Way."
But it is expected to be months before UNC learns the outcome of that 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.
The facts of the case are not in dispute.
UNC's own investigation resulted in the Wainstein Report, which 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. Several employees were terminated or resigned as a result of the investigation.
At issue in this hearing, according to UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham, is 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.
UNC maintains that the Department of Athletics never steered student-athletes to fraudulent courses with the idea of keeping them eligible and had no part in the creation of fake classes.
"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.
In an interview with CBS Sports (itself a probable NCAA violation), Cunningham characterized the NCAA's allegations against the school as overreach, saying he'd bring up examples from NCAA investigations at the University of Southern California, Miami and Penn State where the organization admitted to having gone too far.
"[I just hope] the NCAA doesn't do something that's outside the boundaries," Cunningham told CBS Sports.
The NCAA has alleged five Level 1 infractions, including lack of institutional control, against UNC.
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,1 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."
In addition to Cunningham, Coaches Larry Fedora, Sylvia Hatchell and Roy Williams will all attend the hearing. It is standard practice for head coaches of programs referenced in a notice of allegations to attend.
The hearings are scheduled for all day Wednesday and Thursday behind closed doors in Nashville.