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Sunday September 26th

Saga of UNC academic scandal hits yet another snag

<p>UNC Chancellor Carol Folt walks into the meeting room for the NCAA allegation hearings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort &amp; Conference Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday morning.</p>
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UNC Chancellor Carol Folt walks into the meeting room for the NCAA allegation hearings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Conference Center in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday morning.

After six years of investigation and nearly 15 hours spent deliberating in Nashville, Tenn., in August, the NCAA was finally expected to pass its judgment on UNC's academic scandal on Friday at noon.

But in a characteristic twist for this case, another delay is holding up the process. 

In a tweet on Thursday morning, News & Observer reporter Andrew Carter broke the news, saying, “From a source: the NCAA Committee on Infractions tomorrow at noon will release its final report, including penalties, in the UNC case.” He followed that up with details on the case, saying the Committee on Infractions report would be posted at noon on Friday, followed by a media teleconference at 1 p.m.

Joel Curran, the vice chancellor of University communications, responded to these reports with a statement.

“Due to scheduling circumstances, there will be no release tomorrow regarding the NCAA Committee on Infractions decision," he said. "We have not yet received the Committee’s public infractions report. We anticipate we will be informed 24 hours prior to the actual release at a later date.”

The NCAA was expected to take at least two months from the end of August's hearing before answering the long-awaited question over what punishment, if any, UNC would face. But in a case that has – until now – never surprised anyone with its haste, reports that the findings would be announced Friday were unexpected.

The surprise didn’t last for long, however, and now it remains to be seen when the press release will take place. UNC is set to launch a major fundraising initiative tomorrow, and with events planned throughout the weekend this may have played a part in the delay, Carter reported.

UNC would have had 24 hours of heads up on the press release, but may have only received the report on Thursday morning, leading to the quick back and forth of reports.

Since August, the Committee on Infractions has been arbitrating the case between the NCAA Enforcement Branch and the University. At the conclusion of the Nashville hearing, Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's director of public and media relations, outlined what would follow. 

“Generally speaking, once the hearing is over the Committee on Infractions will deliberate on what they’ve heard and go over all of the facts that have been presented, both through the documents and then also the conversations during the hearing,” she said. “They will determine what violations, if any, took place. Based on the guidelines that they have from the membership … they will determine the appropriate penalties.”

After determining the violations and the penalties, the final step involved compiling a report with their findings, which Osburn estimated would take 60 to 90 days.

“Following that, the Committee on Infractions hearing, officers will have a press call and will release the full report and a summary press release,” she said.

The full report and press release are expected for tomorrow, just 49 days from the conclusion of the hearing. Had the committee taken as long as expected, a resolution wasn’t expected until December.

Any potential penalties are unclear. The University’s main defense against the NCAA’s charges centers around the fact that non-athletes were also able to take the fraudulent courses at the heart of the scandal, which would mean that it does not fall under the NCAA’s definition of impermissible benefits and is therefore a purely academic case. Per NCAA bylaws, the NCAA does not regulate the rigor of courses at member institutions, the University’s accrediting organization does. 

The Enforcement Committee contests that athletes had preferential access to the courses, which would bring the allegation back within the jurisdiction of the NCAA. 

This was the headline allegation being contended between the two institutions, and the one with perhaps the most consequence for the outcome of the case. Other allegations included specific charges against former UNC faculty and staff members allegedly involved in orchestrating the scandal or the cover up which allowed it to continue for more than a decade.

If UNC failed to convince the Committee on Infractions of their case, they are expected to appeal, and if necessary fight the NCAA in federal court over any proposed penalties. On the other hand, if UNC does not receive penalties, it could be seen as a blow to the NCAA’s control over its member schools.

Either way, after six years of asking what would happen to UNC at the hands of the NCAA, judgment day seems right around the corner. But if the past is any indicator, those awaiting the results shouldn’t hold their breath.

In our new series iWitness, we take readers behind the scenes of some our most in-depth stories with an iPhone interview. In our first installment, editor-in-chief Tyler Fleming talks to photo editor Nathan Klima and assistant sports editor James Tatter about their journey to Nashville to cover UNC's NCAA hearing, an event that's been more than six years in the making. Read their story here: http://bit.ly/2fPBHqf


@James_Tatter

sports@dailytarheel.com

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