NCAA panel says it 'cannot conclude UNC violated academic rules'
CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina - The NCAA infractions committee panel handling North Carolina's multi-year academic fraud case has released its ruling and said Friday 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 decision means the school will not face any additional penalties. "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," said Greg Sankey, the panel's chief hearing officer and commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. " The ruling comes roughly eight weeks after UNC appeared before the infractions panel in August in Nashville, Tennessee, for a two-day hearing that included Chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men's basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. The school faced five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control. READ MORE: A full North Carolina vs. the NCAA primer The focus of the investigation was independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department on the Chapel Hill campus. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes but didn't meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports making up roughly half the enrollments. The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible. The oft-delayed case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program resulting in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and again in December. The NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA. UNC challenged the NCAA's jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency - which sanctioned the school with a year of probation - was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter. The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: "The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA's business." UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn't receive special treatment. It also challenged Wainstein's estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent. The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.