NCAA Up Next

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The Wainstein report released on Wednesday provided insight into the NCAA’s reopening of its infractions case at North Carolina this summer and also highlighted potential academic violations stemming from AFAM administrator Deborah Crowder’s "shadow curriculum."

In March 2012, UNC’s public infractions report included a violation of unethical conduct (NCAA Bylaw 10.1) in the form of academic fraud. Former tutor Jennifer Wiley provided improper academic assistance to three student-athletes during the 2008-09 academic year and the summer of 2009.

What the infractions report did not mention was the AFAM scandal and how Crowder’s paper class scheme was utilized by academic counselors in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) to keep certain student-athletes eligible.

The AFAM scandal initially came to light in the summer of 2011, roughly nine months before NCAA handed down its infraction report. According to former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein’s 131-page report, UNC’s Internal Working Group and a NCAA investigator met with nine AFAM faculty and staff members, including AFAM department head Julius Nyang’oro, in August and September 2011 regarding the paper classes.

Nyang’oro, however, admitted to Wainstein that he “shaded the account” he gave in his interview to minimize damage to his department.

The report indicates that due to the fact the classes were available to both students and student-athletes, “the NCAA apparently concluded that there were insufficient evidence of an athletic purpose behind the classes to establish an academic integrity violation under the NCAA by-laws.”

Former Gov. Jim Martin’s report in December 2012 built a substantial foundation for the Wainstein report despite lacking key interviews with Crowder and Nyang’oro. As such, Martin was able to isolate those two individuals as the primary culprits, although he was unable to provide a reason why. More importantly, with regard to the NCAA’s interest level, Martin found no evidence of ASPSA’s academic counselors colluding with AFAM instructors or administrators for the benefit of student-athletes.

Wainstein states in his report that his original agreement with UNC was to advise the school if he “learned of any conduct that amounted to a concrete violation of NCAA by-laws, so that the University could then notify the NCAA.” A corresponding footnote indicates this requirement was intended to go beyond the discovery of student-athletes taking irregular paper classes that had been previously documented.

Once Wainstein’s group “began to get a clear picture of the paper class scheme,” University officials asked him to brief the NCAA on his findings. Those briefings occurred on at least three different occasions.

On June 30, 2014, the NCAA announced that it had reopened its investigation “after determining that additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might be willing to speak with the enforcement staff.”

Crowder’s admission to orchestrating the paper class scheme is damning in its own right. Wainstein’s findings with regard to ASPSA counselors being complicit in keeping student-athletes eligible is likely more problematic from the NCAA’s vantage point.

The report paints a picture of an academic support program pulled in two directions by the athletics department and the College of Arts and Sciences, noting that ASPSA staff believed “they reported to a large degree to senior associate athletics director John Blanchard and the coaches.”

Five ASPSA academic counselors knew about the operation of the paper classes and student-athletes were “routinely steered” into those classes, according to Wainstein. ASPSA associate director Cynthia Reynolds, for example, was found to have provided Crowder with lists of football players to be enrolled in the classes each term, and at times suggested a grade range to maintain a player’s eligibility.

As part of the investigation, Wainstein conducted a statistical analysis to measure the impact of the AFAM grades on a student’s ability to maintain a 2.0 GPA. While the report stresses the limitations of the analysis - accuracy in GPA enhancement due to AFAM class, but no conclusive evidence that the student in question couldn’t enhance his GPA with another easy class - the findings are alarming.

Of the 2,152 students that enrolled in the paper classes, 329 (15 percent) - including 169 student-athletes - “had at least one semester in which the grade they received in their paper class either pushed or kept their GPA above 2.0.” There were 123 football players and 15 basketball players included in that student-athlete grouping.

NCAA By-law 10.1(b) states that unethical conduct by a current or former institutional staff member may include, but is not limited to, “knowing involvement in arranging for fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts for a prospective or an enrolled student-athlete.”

The most recent NCAA case that centered on independent study classes was at Auburn University in 2005-06. The NCAA found no instances of academic fraud in the school allowing students, including student-athletes, to take the courses that were taught by department chair Thomas Petee and adult education professor Dr. James Witte, who were cited for having “too many students in too many course sections.”

The NCAA expressed little interest when University of Michigan psychology professor John Hagen taught 294 independent study courses with a heavy concentration of student-athletes (85 percent) from 2004-07, according to The Ann Arbor News.

David Goldfield, a UNC Charlotte history professor and former NCAA Division I Academics Cabinet member, placed UNC’s scandal in a similar category.

“The Chapel Hill situation is more a matter of degree than of kind from these other situations,” Goldfield said. “It’s not that different from Auburn or Michigan. The basic motivation of all of these efforts is to maintain the eligibility of these student-athletes, not to educate the student-athletes.”

Goldfield believes the proliferation of independent study courses and corresponding student-athlete involvement is due in large part to the NCAA’s academic reform measures that were initially discussed in April 1999 and officially put into place in 2003.

“Basically what the NCAA did was lower admissions requirements and raise the bar for staying in college and therefore being eligible to participate in the sport,” Goldfield said.

What separates UNC’s scandal from what transpired at Auburn and Michigan is that those schools had a professor, in theory, teaching the independent study classes, while Crowder was not a faculty member.

“It’s certainly the worst-case scenario, but it’s the logical conclusion of a system that is basically corrupt,” Goldfield said.

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham told reporters the NCAA received its copy of the Wainstein report prior to the press conference on Wednesday.

“It’s really a hard report to swallow,” Cunningham said. “As I said, the No. 1 thing we do is provide education and when we don’t have integrity in that process, it hurts.”

Cunningham told reporters that it was too early to speculate on the outcome of the NCAA case. He added that he had no idea how soon the NCAA would complete its investigation.

"This investigation lasted longer than we anticipated," Cunningham said. "I really don't know. It would be a pure guess."

Wainstein credited the University for being forthright in its dealings with the NCAA once the AFAM scandal emerged in 2011.

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