UNC finally set to learn ruling in NCAA academic case
By AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
North Carolina is finally set to learn its fate in a multiyear NCAA academic case.
The NCAA infractions committee panel handling the school’s multiyear academic case plans to release its ruling Friday, three people with knowledge of the investigation said. The people said the NCAA notified parties involved in the case Thursday morning. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because neither the school nor the NCAA have commented publicly on the release.
It will be a long-awaited moment for both the school and NCAA, which had investigators first arrive on campus more than seven years ago in a football investigation that ultimately spawned this case focused on irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments.
While a ruling could provide resolution, the delay-filled case could still linger if UNC pursues an appeal or legal action in response to potential penalties that could include fines, probation, postseason bans or vacated wins and championships.
The ruling comes roughly eight weeks after UNC appeared before the infractions panel in August in Nashville, Tennessee, for a two-day hearing that included Chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control, though no coaches are charged with wrongdoing.
In an email to the AP, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the NCAA would send out a media advisory on the morning of an announcement but had “nothing further to share before then.” UNC spokeswoman Joanne Peters Denny declined to comment in an email, referring questions to the NCAA.
The focus is independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department on the Chapel Hill campus. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes but didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.
In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports making up roughly half the enrollments.
The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.
After sanctioning the football program in March 2012 in the original case, the NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and again in December.
The NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.
UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter .
The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”
UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.
The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
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