RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina has responded to the third set of charges it received from the NCAA in the long-running academic fraud case.
The 102-page document released Thursday marked the latest step in the seven-year investigation. UNC faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control, in the multiyear probe centered on irregular courses in an academic department.
In an argument that mirrors its response last August to its second Notice of Allegations, North Carolina is challenging the NCAA’s jurisdiction to pursue charges for issues the school says “are academic in nature” and “lie beyond the reach of the bylaws belatedly invoked” by the NCAA.
The NCAA enforcement staff has until July 17 to file a response.
Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey, who heads the NCAA infractions panel handling the case, has said his panel will hear the case in August with “anticipated” dates of Aug. 16 and 17. The case could reach a resolution by the end of 2017.
The major development in the case before UNC’s response Thursday took place two weeks ago, when a woman at the center of the investigation – Deborah Crowder – was interviewed by investigators after previously declining to cooperate. Crowder, a retired office administrator who graded many of the papers in the problem classes, also filed an affidavit in March defending the quality of the courses.
North Carolina stated it will file a supplemental response to Thursday’s documents to include specific references to Crowder’s testimony once it receives the official transcript of her interview from the NCAA.
The school repeated its stance that the NCAA’s constitution and bylaws apply to “basic athletics issues” and don’t extend to matters of academic structure, content and process on campus. UNC blames those issues on “the result of inadequate academic oversight unrelated to” the athletic department and says it has implemented 70 reforms to prevent recurrences.
When a similar issue was raised by UNC in August 2016, the NCAA responded that the argument was “without merit.”
NCAA spokeswoman Emily James did not immediately return an email Thursday seeking comment.
The school also disagreed with some statistics in a 2014 investigation by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein into irregularities in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. His report estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports accounting for roughly half the enrollments in the problem courses.
UNC argued that the Wainstein report counted as student-athletes some students who no longer were members of a sports team when they took the course, disagreeing with what it called a “once an athlete, always an athlete” approach.
The school’s response did not include any self-imposed sanctions, and it also made no mention of Sankey.
Raleigh attorney Elliot Abrams, who represents a retired office administrator charged with violations, had written a letter seeking the removal of Sankey as head of the NCAA infractions panel because of a conflict of interest. In his response last month, Sankey denied the request, saying the panel would “fairly decide this case.”
In December, UNC received a set of revamped the charges against the university – leading some university officials to openly question the fairness of the process. The NCAA charged the school with providing improper extra benefits after withdrawing a similar charge from last spring – rewording the charge that had been removed from the first version filed in May 2015 centering on athletes’ access to irregular courses.
The focus of the case is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two in the AFAM department. They featured significant athlete enrollments and typically high grades.
The case is an offshoot of a 2010 probe into the football program. The NCAA reopened its investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in May 2015, revised them last April and again in December.