North Carolina’s NCAA Academic Case Stuck in Holding Pattern - Higher Education
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North Carolina’s NCAA Academic Case Stuck in Holding Pattern

by Aaron Beard, Associated Press

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. ― North Carolina’s long-running academic fraud scandal case seems stuck in procedural limbo.

The NCAA charged the school in May with five violations, including lack of institutional control, but there has been little movement since. The NCAA is reviewing information reported by UNC in August and could amend the Notice of Allegations (NOA) used to specify violations. Until then, the case ― an offshoot of a review launched nearly six years ago ― can’t advance toward resolution.

“It’s very taxing on a lot of people for a variety of reasons,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s been used against us in recruiting. It has been damaging to the reputation of the university.

“But the Syracuse case was eight years. And we’re talking about a case that was closed in 2012, then reopened in 2014, and we’re talking about issues that occurred from the 1990s through 2011. It’s a unique case.”

It’s not unusual for the process to linger for years, and some schools don’t want to wait before facing anticipated penalties.

Syracuse’s case began in 2007 and crawled forward until the school imposed a postseason ban for men’s basketball last February. The NCAA added more penalties a month later ― including a suspension for Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim ― for academic, drug and gift violations in multiple sports.

At Mississippi, officials last month confirmed an NOA against the school. That case began in 2012 and led to a self-imposed postseason ban for women’s basketball that year. It now includes football and track and field.

And last week, Louisville imposed a postseason ban for Hall of Famer Rick Pitino’s men’s basketball program amid an investigation into allegations an ex-staffer hired an escort and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits from 2010-14. The school notified the NCAA in August and hasn’t received an NOA.

While a self-imposed penalty might mitigate later punishment, cases continue until the NCAA considers them closed.

“People make too much of this idea that somehow there’s this strategy that you go ahead and (self-impose penalties) and then the NCAA will leave you alone,” said Gene A. Marsh, a Birmingham, Alabama-based attorney who spent nine years on the NCAA’s infractions committee and was a former chairman. “That’s just not the way it works. . That’s nonsense.”

North Carolina’s academic case grew from a 2010 football investigation, with NCAA sanctions announced in March 2012 roughly nine months after an NOA arrived. A similar timeline for this case ends this month, and school officials have hoped for resolution by spring.

That looks less likely each day.

“We’re waiting on the amended NOA and we have continued to cooperate and we have provided them all the information they have requested and we’ve had available,” Cunningham said. “And we’ll continue to do so through the full investigative process.”

NCAA spokeswoman Emily James said the governing body won’t comment on ongoing cases.

UNC’s case centers on independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies department. Run largely by an office administrator, they featured GPA-boosting grades and significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, while poor oversight throughout the university allowed them to run unchecked for years.

A 2014 probe by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments in problem courses.

The NCAA’s notice treated issues surrounding the courses as improper benefits and charged a women’s basketball adviser provided improper help on assignments. No coaches were cited, but the institutional-control charge mentioned counselors using the courses to help keep at-risk athletes eligible “particularly” in football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

Schools must respond to NOAs within 90 days, which is often when they self-impose penalties. UNC was near its deadline before reporting additional improper assistance from the women’s basketball adviser and possible recruiting violations in men’s soccer.

That clock restarts once the NCAA amends or revises the notice. The enforcement staff would have 60 days to respond to UNC’s filing, leading to an infractions-committee hearing and a ruling weeks to months afterward.

“I wish there was some way that there could be a speedier (conclusion) but our people are trying to do the best they can do,” Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Roy Williams said last week. “The NCAA’s probably doing things the way they do them. And it’s been very frustrating for me.”

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