After three-and-a-half years of investigating fake classes in North Carolina’s African and Afro-American Studies department that dated back over 18 years, the NCAA announced on Friday that it does not have the jurisdiction to charge the university with violations of either academic fraud or providing “impermissible benefits” to its athletes.
Of course, the NCAA’s findings, which can be read in full below, are strewn with catty, defensive remarks—“From its inception, the infractions case has been public in nature, including attacks on the membership’s infractions process and individual members of the panel”—and backhanded compliments to UNC’s legal team for figuring out a way to somehow make the NCAA’s investigative branch look exactly like the incompetent, over-reaching body that it is. The only violations the NCAA could bring focused on a pair of individuals, department chair Julius Nyang’oro and administrator Deborah Crowder, who refused multiple times to cooperate with the investigation. The two former UNC employees were determined to have violated the NCAA’s rule against “unethical conduct and failing to cooperate during an investigation,” resulting in Nyang’oro being hit with a five-year show cause order.
The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, whose roster doesn’t contain a single ACC representative, split from the Enforcement Staff’s decision, ruling that North Carolina’s legal team was correct in its assertions that the courses were not designed solely for athletes and that academic fraud did not take place despite the regular occurrence of “paper classes”—per NCAA rules, only member schools, not the NCAA, are able to officially say academic fraud occurred.
(In case you’re hung up on that last bit, what it means, essentially, is that all UNC’s lawyers had to do was consistently say, “We reviewed the classes and no, we did not find academic fraud” and the NCAA’s entire case crumbled; naturally, UNC’s lawyers did just that. It was really that simple.)
UNC’s counter to the NCAA building its entire case on impermissible benefits for athletes was that because the classes were open to the entire student body, athletes, though they made up 47 percent of the total enrollment in these classes, were not granted a benefit—an easy “A” class—that was not also available to the general student population.
By leaving the ability to determine what academic fraud is to the member schools, the NCAA created an easy pathway to success for UNC. The university served its year of probation handed down by its accreditor, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (after openly admitting to lying to SACS about the courses multiple times); despite initially agreeing with it, the university later denied crucial findings from the Wainstein report that claimed academic fraud occurred; and it countered the academic fraud claims by asserting that while the classes did not meet the school’s rigorous standards, the little work that was required was completed and turned in, thus constituting a class. That’s it. The NCAA bylaws—bylaws cleverly written by the member schools—were all it took to nuke the NCAA’s entire investigation.
The NCAA’s case began way back in June 2014, with the first notice of allegations being released in May 2015; the second one came in April 2016, to which UNC responded that the NCAA was overstepping its bounds; the third and final NOA was issued last December. Ultimately, none of them mattered, because they never really mattered to the right people (SACS) to begin with. The NCAA, despite its loud chest-beating and insistence on adding a ram pelt next to its trojan trophy and mustang carcass, was attempting once again to lie to itself and its member schools and prosecute a university and its athletic department that, put simply, did what was best for its athletes and any struggling students. The fight against the NCAA ran up a legal bill north of $18 million for UNC. Considering a good number of folks outside and inside the program reportedly expected a “hammer to fall,” per the N&O’s Andrew Carter, I reckon a great many Tar Heels would admit that’s money well spent as soon they all wake up hungover as hell tomorrow morning.
Later tonight, UNC will host Late Night with Roy, its annual basketball pep rally, where this year, the Tar Heels will hoist the banner from its 2017 championship. I imagine, or at least hope, there will be chants of “Fuck the NCAA” as the banner, the third one UNC has won since 2005, reaches the ceiling (also known as the roof) of the Dean Dome.