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NCAA rejects UNC's response as 'without merit'

The NCAA enforcement staff has rejected UNC’s most recent defense against potential penalties for its academic scandal, as shown in documents released Tuesday by the University.

On Aug. 1, UNC responded to an amended version of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations by arguing the governing body went beyond its jurisdiction in punishing academic matters. But in a response sent to the University on Sept. 19 — which was released on the Carolina Commitment website on Tuesday — the NCAA dismissed UNC’s claims as “without merit.”

The release comes days before UNC meets with the Committee on Infractions on Friday in Indianapolis. The procedural meeting is not slated to address the merits of potential violations, instead focusing on whether the NCAA acted outside of its jurisdiction.

In the released document from Sept. 19, the NCAA said the NOA response from UNC “rests almost entirely on these procedural issues and touches only minimally on the underlying substantive facts.”

Even so, the NCAA attacked the four main tenets of UNC’s defense: jurisdictional issues, statute of limitations, finality of decisions and fairness.

In its NOA response, UNC asserted that issues related to academic rigor were subject to review by an accrediting agency, not an athletic governing body. In its response, the NCAA agreed — saying it had “no desire to challenge the institution on how academic departments are managed, even if managed poorly.”

But the NCAA maintained that the allegations against UNC were “tethered directly to athletics” and the anomalous courses in question “provided student-athletes with advantages that others simply did not have,” which it said was a violation of NCAA rules.

The athletic department’s involvement in UNC’s former Department of Afro and African-American Studies has been an enduring point of contention, especially since independent investigator Kenneth Wainstein released his 2014 report.

Wainstein’s report found that former department chairperson Julius Nyang’oro and former administrative assistant Deborah Crowder facilitated fake classes to maintain eligibility for student-athletes. It also determined that former faculty chairperson, philosophy professor and academic counselor Jan Boxill steered women’s basketball players into these classes and altered grades for athletes in her independent study courses.

UNC admitted its failure to monitor Boxill in its NOA response, though it denied her actions were willful and declared the entire matter an academic one. The NCAA disagreed, citing disproportionately high enrollment of student-athletes in these courses.

The NCAA also rebutted UNC’s claim that any allegations from before 2010 are beyond a four-year statute of limitations. The enforcement staff argued that certain allegations — a “pattern of willful violations” by Boxill and a “blatant disregard” for academic, extra benefit and ethical conduct bylaws by the University — qualify as exceptions to the four-year window.

In its response to the NOA, the University said the NCAA’s previous infractions report in 2012 ought to be “final, binding, and conclusive,” and the current issues should have been raised before then.

Yet that case ended before Wainstein’s report in 2014, which the NCAA says “changed matters significantly” and “provided, for the first time, a complete picture” of the athletic department’s use of anomalous courses.

The NCAA enforcement staff said that Oct. 26, 2015 — when UNC and the NCAA reopened the investigation into academic fraud — was the first time it had access to all the relevant information. Therefore, the materials uncovered in Wainstein’s report constituted a different case entirely.

UNC’s response to the NOA argued anything obtained from an independent investigation should not be considered to “protect the integrity of the NCAA’s investigative process” — essentially claiming that information from any outside investigations, including Wainstein’s, should be dismissed by the NCAA enforcement staff.

But the NCAA cited hypocrisy on UNC’s part, claiming the University had not distanced itself from Wainstein’s findings in any other context. The NCAA also declared that members of the Committee on Infractions can “assign whatever weight they choose” to the report.

Friday’s meeting between the NCAA and the University will be pivotal for the future of UNC’s case.

If the NCAA is determined to have overstepped its jurisdiction, its efforts to sanction UNC for academic fraud would presumably be stalled.

If the NCAA is deemed to be within its bounds, the University would likely go before the Committee on Infractions at some point next year for the final verdict.


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