CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina and the NCAA appear to agree on at least one thing: The school has corrected problems that led to its long-running academic fraud scandal through numerous reforms and personnel changes.
What the two sides don’t agree on is what rule violations were committed.
That will play a role in any potential sanctions the school could face now that the NCAA has hit the school with five charges, meaning there’s still a long road to resolution in a nearly 4-year-old case.
“We’ll do everything we can do to make it go as quickly as possible, but we’ll take the time to do it thoughtfully,” UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said Friday. “But I think we all know that we will get to the end of this process. And I’m very anxious for that to take place because while this has been going on for all these years, we’ve been doing so many other things.”
The NCAA’s notice of allegations outlined a lack of institutional control and four other potential Level I violations, which are described as a “severe breach of conduct.”
The NCAA regarded issues surrounding academic irregularities within the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies Department as potential improper benefits by saying athletes received “special arrangements” such as access to courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes.
The lack of institutional control focused on the AFAM Department and the academic support program for athletes, including the conduct of a women’s basketball adviser for providing too much help on assignments. No coaches were charged.
Many details followed findings from the eight-month investigation by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein. His probe found the problems — most notably, lecture classes that didn’t meet and were treated as an independent study requiring a research paper or two — affected more than 3,100 students between 1993 and 2011.
Wainstein’s October report stated athletes made up roughly half the enrollments in problem courses typically featuring GPA-boosting grades, while also detailing how academic counselors enrolled athletes in those classes and how poor oversight throughout the university allowed the fraud to run unchecked for so long.
The NCAA didn’t charge UNC with academic fraud in its May 20 notice and limited its charge of improper benefits to between fall 2002 and summer 2011.
UNC must now file its response, which includes whether it agrees with the charge level and whether the facts are “substantially correct.” Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said Thursday that “some (allegations) I agreed with, some I did not” on his first read.
“To do a thorough review, it does take time,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of data to review and the reviews go back quite some time. But I will also concur that it has been a difficult environment on the campus for us … and I do think the length of time has impacted our ability to attract some of the students that would have committed to the institution in previous years.”
Just don’t expect the process to move quickly. The school is allowed 90 days to respond, which is when it would self-impose penalties if it decides to do so.
Cunningham said UNC would likely take the full time allowed to respond.
The NCAA’s enforcement staff would then have 60 days to file its own response. That would ultimately lead to a hearing with the infractions committee, which typically issues a ruling and any sanctions within weeks to months.
This academic investigation grew out a 2010 investigation into the football program, with the committee issuing sanctions in March 2012 in that case roughly nine months after the notice of allegations arrived. A similar timeline would carry this case through at least February 2016 — approaching six years since the NCAA first arrived on campus.
UNC still faces questions from its accreditation agency — which is scheduled to decide next week on any potential sanctions — and several lawsuits from ex-UNC athletes.
Gene A. Marsh, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s infractions committee and a former chairman, said speculating on penalties facing UNC in the NCAA case is “just throwing darts.”
“I go back to the idea that people in athletics only find somebody to do this dance I’d call it … if they find some partner on the other side — somebody to dance with,” said Marsh, a former faculty athletic representative at Alabama. “And that’s the academic side of the aisle.
“So it is different and it’s broader in that it stretches over time and it affects a lot of different people, but it’s not the end of the Earth. Carolina will get past this and it’s a great academic institution. Everyone knows that. It doesn’t define the school.”