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Infractions panel could not conclude academic violations in North Carolina case

Download the Oct. 2017 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Public Infractions Decision

Listen to the media teleconference:

A Division I Committee on Infractions hearing panel could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA 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 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. “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.”

At its core, the case involved allegations that North Carolina provided student-athletes with extra benefits through special access and course assistance, including heavy involvement from the former department chair and a former curriculum secretary. The panel also evaluated whether a former counselor provided too much help to women's basketball student-athletes and whether the university lacked control of or failed to monitor its athletics programs.

In addition to the allegations brought by the enforcement staff, the panel also considered whether academic fraud violations occurred due to the nature of the case, the university’s initial adoption of its accrediting agency’s characterization of academic fraud and the information uncovered in the outside Cadwalader investigation.

The panel noted that its ability to determine whether academic fraud occurred at UNC was limited by the NCAA principle relying on individual member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred on their own campuses. North Carolina said the work was assigned, completed, turned in and graded, often by the former secretary, under the professor’s guidelines. While the university admitted the courses failed to meet its own expectations and standards, the university maintained that the courses did not violate its policies at the time.

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 panel reviewed whether the former counselor, who also served as an instructor while employed at the university, acted unethically and provided academic extra benefits to women’s basketball student-athletes. The panel found the record did not discredit the former counselor’s statements at the hearing regarding a consistent level of assistance to all students. As a result, the panel could not conclude that she provided women’s basketball student-athletes with extra benefits or acted unethically.

The allegations also included a charge that North Carolina failed to monitor and demonstrate appropriate controls with respect to the courses and the former counselor. In reaching its conclusions, the panel said the limitations in the record required it to, at best, infer motives based on the large number of student-athletes who took the courses and received high grades. The panel concluded that while student-athletes and athletics programs may have benefitted from utilizing the courses, the general student body also benefitted. Based on both the information available in the record and North Carolina’s support of the courses that were offered as not violating its policies, the panel could not conclude that the university failed to monitor or lacked control over its athletics program.

The panel concluded that the former department chair and former secretary did not cooperate with the investigation. The former department chair did not participate in the process and the former secretary did not cooperate until three years after the investigation began. The panel appreciated the former secretary’s eventual cooperation and said that her participation at the hearing benefitted the panel’s ability to decide the case.

Consistent with the ranges outlined in the membership-approved penalty guidelines, the panel did not prescribe a show-cause order for the former secretary. However, a record of the secretary’s failure to cooperate will be maintained by the Office of the Committees on Infractions. The panel prescribed a five-year show-cause period (Oct. 13, 2017, through Oct. 12, 2022) for the former department chair. During that period, any NCAA member school employing the former chair must show cause why he should not have restrictions on athletically related activity.

Members of the Committee on Infractions are drawn from NCAA membership and members of the public. Along with Sankey, the members of the panel who reviewed this case are Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State and Bowling Green; Alberto Gonzales, dean of the law school at Belmont and former attorney general of the United States; Eleanor W. Myers, associate professor of law emerita and former faculty athletics representative at Temple; Joseph D. Novak, former head football coach at Northern Illinois; and Jill Pilgrim, attorney in private practice.