The NCAA Approach

When Penn State commissioned an outside inquiry into the university's mishandling of child abuse by football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, the NCAA made the unprecedented step of accepting the report outright and acting on its findings instead of conducting its own investigation.

Read Part I:
Questioning The Wainstein Report

Read Part II:
Defining The Wainstein Report
Two years later, North Carolina commissioned an independent investigator to look into irregular classes in its AFAM Department. But this time the NCAA is taking a completely different approach in dealing with the report’s findings.

“That stepped completely outside of everyone’s protocols and processes,” UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said of the NCAA/Penn State case. “We’re not doing that.”

As a result, the NCAA is dealing with a different set of circumstances as it conducts its own investigation into UNC's potential violations stemming from the academic scandal.

For instance, the investigative report on UNC, which was released in late October, used the testimony of Deborah Crowder, the AFAM office manager and the supposed mastermind behind the faulty classes. Under pressure from the State Bureau of Investigation and the Orange County District Attorney, Crowder agreed to cooperate with former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein and his staff and sat down for 25-30 hours of interviews.

However, Crowder is under no obligation to speak with the NCAA and will refuse to do so if asked. It’s also doubtful that other important subjects who cooperated with Wainstein and no longer work at UNC will meet with the NCAA.

And even if the NCAA wanted to use the tapes from the Wainstein interviews, many of them don’t exist. Crowder and men’s basketball academic counselor Wayne Walden were among the key figures whose interviews with Wainstein’s staff weren’t recorded.

A source familiar with how Wainstein conducted his investigation said that interviews weren’t taped not because of a request from UNC, but because a recorder in the room has a chilling effect on witnesses, who become less forthcoming if they know an interview will be recorded for posterity.

There are other unprecedented actions from the NCAA/Penn State case that weren’t repeated at UNC. The NCAA seemingly took an active role during the Penn State investigation conducted by Louis Freeh, e-mailing Freeh’s firm a list of 32 questions to ask witnesses. The NCAA suffered significant blowback when the e-mail became public, and the Wainstein source said the NCAA never prepared questions or influenced any of the UNC interviews. The Wainstein team met with the NCAA three times but it was only to share information and provide updates.

Wainstein’s staff does have a general understanding of the NCAA’s rulebook – the NCAA hired Wainstein last year to look into whether its enforcement staff acted inappropriately during its investigation of Miami. But while Wainstein’s team brought issues to UNC’s attention during the process, it pointedly did not determine violations in its report. For example, Wainstein did not conclude if some athletes maintained their eligibility by taking the irregular classes, which could be a key part of the NCAA’s inquiry.

While UNC implemented a hands-off approach with Wainstein, it’s working hand-in-hand with the NCAA during this new probe.

“In the Penn State case, the (NCAA) never did an investigation. They just took the report and said, ‘These are all facts,’” Cunningham said. “Our case is Wainstein did a report and an investigation, and here’s their presentation. Now together we’ll go through that and say, ‘Okay, this is what we agree on or don’t,’ as we do with every other fact associated with this case. So we’re following that process.”

UNC has also hired the outside counsel of Bond, Schoeneck & King, which has represented more than 60 Division I schools and has conducted more than 100 potential major infractions case investigations.

NCAA president Mark Emmert praised UNC’s cooperation with the enforcement staff, which could serve to mitigate potential penalties.

“The university has been very forthcoming working with our people,” Emmert told CBS Sports earlier this month.

Emmert also seemed to give UNC credit for investigating itself and finding issues that never came up during the previous NCAA probe into the football program.

“I was impressed the university committed the energy and resources to do that study and they made it public and they rolled it all out there, and that's a very hard thing for a university to do,” Emmert said. “Here's one of the great universities on Earth and they're working very, very hard to get this right.”

Emmert reiterated that the Penn State case was unique “in the magnitude of the misconduct,” and that other cases would follow NCAA protocols.

The fact that the NCAA will not parrot Wainstein's report, and must conduct its own investigation with the school, is good news for those who criticized or questioned certain conclusions reached by Wainstein that were unfavorable to the athletic department, such as how much coaches and academic advisors knew about what was happening on the academic side of campus.

But it also helps explain why the latest NCAA investigation, which started in June, continues today – a frustrating circumstance for people who have been waiting for a final resolution since 2010, when the NCAA first came to Chapel Hill.

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