North Carolina academic scandal involving fake classes explained
For months the long-running NCAA infractions case at UNC-Chapel Hill had been at a standstill while university officials waited to receive an amended Notice of Allegations from the NCAA. That wait is now over.
UNC on Monday confirmed receipt of the amended Notice of Allegations (NOA), which again details the results of the NCAA’s investigation into a scheme of suspect African Studies classes that benefited athletes in disproportionate numbers. The new NOA, like the first, wasn’t immediately released.
And so its contents, and how it compares to the original NOA that UNC received last May, remained unclear on Monday. The amended NOA will eventually be released publicly in modified form, after the university’s legal team redacts part of it.
How the amended NOA might compare to the original has, for months, been the foremost question amid a long delay in an NCAA infractions case that will now likely drag into 2017. UNC was days away from the deadline to respond to its first NOA when it submitted new information to the NCAA.
That new information detailed additional violations involving Jan Boxill, the former women’s basketball academic counselor who was cited for misconduct in the original NOA. The new information also detailed men’s soccer recruiting violations unrelated to the NCAA investigation.
UNC submitted the new information to the NCAA on August 10, 2015. At the time, Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, said he was hopeful that UNC would receive an amended NOA by October. Instead, the university had to wait until Monday.
In the first NOA the NCAA’s Enforcement Staff charged UNC with five Level I violations, including a lack of institutional control and providing athletes with impermissible benefits related to the suspect African- and Afro-American (AFAM) Studies courses that are at the heart of the case.
Level I violations are the most serious an institution can commit, and they represent “a severe breach of conduct,” according to wording in the first NOA. UNC also faced allegations of wrongdoing specifically related to the actions of three former employees.
Julius Nyang’oro, the former AFAM department chair, and Debby Crowder, the former AFAM administrative assistant, were charged with unethical conduct. Boxill, a former philosophy instructor and director of the Parr Center for Ethics, was charged with providing extra benefits and improper help to women’s basketball players during her time as the team’s academic counselor.
The most significant charge that UNC faced in the first NOA was that of a lack of institutional control. The enforcement staff charged UNC with a lack of institutional control for failing to monitor Boxill’s activities, and also for failing to monitor the AFAM and athletic academic support departments.
One frequently-cited portion of the first NOA described how UNC football and basketball players benefited from the long-running scheme of suspect AFAM classes:
“The AFRI/AFAM department created anomalous courses that went unchecked for 18 years. This allowed individuals within ASPSA (the academic support program for student-athletes) to use these courses through special arrangements to maintain the eligibility of academically at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.”
Despite that language, though, the sports of men’s basketball and football weren’t charged with specific allegations of wrongdoing. And neither was anyone – head coaches, assistant coaches, academic support staff members – associated with those teams.
Boxill, the former women’s basketball academic counselor, was the only individual who worked directly with a team to be cited for misconduct in the first NOA. The enforcement staff in the first NOA also treated UNC’s case as one that revolved around impermissible benefits – and not academic fraud.
It was unclear on Monday whether the amended NOA cited additional individuals for wrongdoing, or whether it expanded the scope of the case to include academic fraud. Another key question is whether the amended NOA charges UNC for using ineligible athletes in competition.
That was one of the main questions surrounding the arrival of the first NOA: whether the athletes who received the impermissible benefits described in the document were therefore made ineligible by the receipt of those alleged benefits.
If UNC is found to have used ineligible athletes in competition, it would increase the likelihood that the university is forced to vacate past victories and championships. One of the central questions of the case has been whether UNC will be forced to vacate men’s basketball national championships.
Ten members of UNC’s 2005 national championship team, for instance, majored in AFAM. By the 2008-09 academic year, when UNC won its second national championship under coach Roy Williams, men’s basketball players’ enrollments in the suspect AFAM classes had declined considerably.
Even so, under Williams men’s basketball players accounted for 167 enrollments in the suspect AFAM classes that are at the heart of the case. Those classes began in 1993, according to Kenneth Wainstein’s independent investigation, and ended in 2011.
The NCAA has used the same timeframe for its investigation. The act of being enrolled in one of the suspect courses, though, did not constitute a violation, according to the first NOA.
How much the amended NOA differs is now a primary question in the case. Another one is when the amended NOA will be released to the public in redacted form.
After UNC received the first NOA on May 20, 2015, it took 15 days – until June 4 – for the university to release a public version of the document. If the university follows the same timeline this time, a redacted version of the amended NOA could be made public by May 10.
The receipt of the amended NOA ends a long, confounding wait that had halted the progress of an NCAA investigation that began in June 2014. The new NOA, though, is not an end point as much as it is a new beginning to a case that still has several steps to go before a resolution is reached.
UNC now has another 90 days to respond to the amended NOA, as the university had when it received the original NOA. It’s unclear whether UNC will take the full 90 days to respond.
After UNC submits its response, whenever it might come, the NCAA then has approximately one month to respond to that response, at which time it will set a date for UNC to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which is the judge and jury in NCAA infractions cases.
After UNC’s appearance before the infractions committee it could take another three months, at least, for the committee to announce the penalties and sanctions UNC would face. At that point UNC could appeal the Committee on Infractions’ ruling.
A final resolution, then, is still several months away and the case will likely stretch into 2017.