North Carolina Tar Heels avoid major sanctions in academics fraud case

North Carolina avoided major sanctions after the NCAA could not conclude the school violated 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 NCAA said in a release Friday the committee on infractions panel found two violations in this case — the former department chair and a former curriculum secretary failed to cooperate during the investigation.

“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, in the release. “The panel is troubled by the university’s shifting positions about whether academic fraud occurred on its campus and the credibility of the Cadwalader report, which it distanced itself from after initially supporting the findings. However, NCAA policy is clear. 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 investigation centered on a system in which a significant percentage of student-athletes took classes that had academic irregularities — and whether that resulted in those athletes receiving an impermissible benefit. The classes were taken by more than 3,100 students — nearly half of them athletes — from 1993 to 2011. However, the investigation was focused from 2002-11.

The independent study-style courses came in the Department of African and Afro-American studies and often required no attendance, grade changes, forged faculty signatures and just one paper at the conclusion of the semester. The athletes were reportedly guided into the classes to help remain academically eligible.

North Carolina has maintained that the NCAA has no jurisdiction over this academic matter, and has denied that student-athletes received impermissible benefits due to the fact that the classes in question were offered to the entire student body.

The panel also did not conclude, based on the record before it, that extra benefits were provided to student-athletes. The panel noted the former secretary credibly explained during the hearing that she treated all students the same.

“While student-athletes likely benefited from the courses, so did the general student body,” said Sankey. “Additionally, the record did not establish that the university created and offered the courses as part of a systemic effort to benefit only student-athletes.”

The Tar Heels won a pair of national titles within the span — in 2005 and 2009. North Carolina also won a national championship this past season, but that title was never in question.

The NCAA, which had investigated the football program in 2010, re-opened a new investigation in June of 2014 and issued the first notice of allegations in May of 2015 — which included a lack of institutional control and also offering impermissible benefits to athletes. There was a second NOA in April of 2016 in which there was still a lack of institutional control, but no mention of men’s basketball or football and also no impermissible benefits charge.

Sankey asked the enforcement staff to look at new information in November of 2016 — and a third notice of allegations in December of 2016 included both men’s basketball and football once again and had UNC facing five top-level charges — including a lack of institutional control and the initial extra benefit charge. Two other charges pertained to former department chair/professor Julius Nyang’oro and former student services manager Deborah Crowder failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff requests — violating the NCAA principles of ethical conduct. The final one involved an academic counselor providing extra benefits by way of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players from 2003 to 2010.

North Carolina had a two-day hearing in mid-April in Nashville in front of the NCAA’s Committee of Infractions. Men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell and football coach Larry Fedora, in addition to athletic director Bubba Cunningham and chancellor Carol Folt — were all in attendance.

The NCAA actually began investigating the North Carolina football program back in June 2010 for impermissible benefits and academic fraud under former coach Butch Davis. The football program received a one-year postseason ban, lost 15 scholarships over a three-year period and also was forced to vacate 15 wins in March of 2012. The school conducted an internal faculty investigation in which it was found that there were issues with 54 classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies taught from 2007 to 2011. There was then another review from former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin who found the sham classes went back to 1997.

North Carolina hired Kenneth Wainstein in February of 2014 to work on an independent investigation into the scandal. It found that former African studies department chairman Nyang’oro and Crowder created bogus classes and enrolled student-athletes to help them remain eligible over a span from 1993 to 2011. Crowder left the university in 2009.

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