The long-running academic fraud scandal at North Carolina actually began with an investigation into football players, ties to agents and possible improper benefits seven years ago.
While the NCAA and school began looking into whether big-name players, including Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn, took thousands of dollars in gifts, investigators got their first hint at academic improprieties at the university.
Little did they know those improprieties would mushroom into the ugliest chapter in the school’s history. By the time the NCAA closed its first investigation in 2012 with heavy penalties for the football team, questions surrounding paper classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies were only beginning to grow.
As a result, the NCAA reopened its investigation into North Carolina in 2014 and now the football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball programs face possible sanctions. The men’s basketball national championships in 2005 and 2009 could be in jeopardy.
North Carolina will to go in front of the Committee on Infractions in Nashville on Wednesday to argue its case against any penalties, believing the NCAA has no jurisdiction over academic matters. The NCAA asked football coach Larry Fedora, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell to attend the hearing. Fedora, whose team is in the middle of fall football practice, told local reporters last week, "I’m there for support. I think me being there is important for not only the NCAA, but also the university. It shows that compliance is important to me and our program." In the meantime, it is worth taking a look back at how the university got here.
NCAA Investigation No. 1
In June 2010, the NCAA began investigating the North Carolina football program for impermissible benefits and academic fraud under then-coach Butch Davis. What it ultimately found was stunning in and of itself: seven players accepted more than $27,500 in impermissible benefits; an assistant on staff failed to disclose income he received from an agent; and an academic tutor wrote large portions of term papers for three players.
The NCAA handed North Carolina football a one-year postseason ban, stripped 15 scholarships over a three-year period and forced the program to vacate 16 wins in March 2012. During the course of the investigation, UNC had identified problems with the Department of African and Afro-American Studies and worked jointly with the NCAA to investigate, but no NCAA violations were found.
As a result of those problems, an internal faculty investigation began. Its report, issued in May 2012, found problems with 54 classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011. Those problems included grade changes, forged faculty signatures and limited or no class time. It also found a majority of those enrolled in the classes were athletes.
North Carolina forwarded the results to the NCAA, which reaffirmed to university officials no NCAA rules were broken.
Another review was conducted shortly thereafter. Former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin, tasked with putting together his own study involving AFAM and the athletic department, stated in his December 2012 report the sham classes went back even further, to 1997. In addition, there were about 200 confirmed or suspected fake classes. He did not assign blame to the athletics department, but did say certain academic advisors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes were aware certain classes in the AFAM department were "term paper courses."
The Wainstein report
After links between the athletic department and AFAM were detailed in media reports, UNC hired Kenneth Wainstein in February 2014 to put together an independent investigation into the growing scandal.
Before the report was released, former UNC basketball player Rashad McCants alleged academic fraud to ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" in June, saying he had papers written for him and that no-show classes helped keep him eligible. Roy Williams denied the charges, but the Raleigh News & Observer reported five members of the 2005 national championship team "accounted for a combined 39 enrollments in classes that have been identified as confirmed or suspected lecture classes that never met."
Later that month, the NCAA announced it would reopen its investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina, saying in a statement: "After determining that additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might be willing to speak with the enforcement staff, the NCAA has reopened its investigation. The enforcement staff is exploring this new information to ensure an exhaustive investigation is conducted based on all available information."
In October 2014, the Wainstein report was released as the most extensive investigation to date. It found that former African studies department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and former office administrator Deborah Crowder created bogus classes to help student-athletes stay eligible over a period that went from 1993 to 2011. Only one paper was required to be turned in to meet class requirements; most received A and B grades.
Further, the report found academic advisers in the athletic department colluded with Nyang’oro and Crowder to enroll student-athletes in those classes. In some cases, advisors told them what grades the student-athletes needed to stay eligible.
The classes were open to the student body and more than 3,000 participated. The report found student-athletes made up 48 percent of those who took the courses, an overwhelmingly disproportionate number to their total representation in the student body (roughly 4 percent). Football and men’s basketball players had the highest enrollments.
NCAA Investigation No. 2
In May 2015, the NCAA sent its first notice of allegations to North Carolina, charging the school with five major violations, including lack of institutional control and offering impermissible benefits to athletes. At issue: the NCAA classified the AFAM classes as possible improper benefits, stating athletes received access to those courses and other assistance generally unavailable to the rest of the student body. The
NCAA also charged UNC counselors with arranging these classes for student-athletes by working with AFAM faculty and staff over a nine-year period.
In addition, women’s basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill was charged with providing extra benefits in the form of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements for women’s basketball players.
The notice would be amended two more times.
In April 2016, the NCAA sent an amended notice of allegations to North Carolina, though the school still faced the lack of institutional control charge. One key difference was football and men’s basketball were no longer mentioned, and the impermissible benefits charge was taken out.
North Carolina appeared before an infractions committee panel in a preliminary hearing in October, arguing the NCAA had no jurisdiction to handle academic matters. That argument was rejected; In November, committee chairman Greg Sankey (also SEC commissioner) asked the enforcement staff to revisit the charges.
In December, the NCAA sent a third notice of allegations that delivered a big blow. The impermissible benefit charge returned. In the notice, the NCAA described the school and athletic department leveraging its relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to obtain special arrangements for student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation. They pointed to football and men’s basketball players as using these courses to maintain their eligibility, putting the two hoops championships in 2005 and 2009 in jeopardy. The lack of institutional control charge remains.
North Carolina responded in May, repeating again, the NCAA had no jurisdiction to intervene on academic matters, and denied student-athletes received impermissible benefits because the paper classes were offered to the entire student body. In a written response, the NCAA enforcement staff rejected those ideas, bluntly saying, "The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business."