CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The NCAA enforcement staff adhered to its bylaws in producing its amended notice of allegations to the University of North Carolina on Monday.
In December 2014, only a few weeks after Kenneth Wainstein delivered his $3.1 million report that detailed the beginnings of UNC’s irregular African and Afro-American (AFAM) Studies courses, athletic director Bubba Cunningham detailed in an interview with Inside Carolina the need for the pending NCAA investigation to follow the rules in place to reach a fair conclusion.
“Everyone realizes the importance of process and protocol because if this is how you operate, you need to follow those,” Cunningham said. “Just because things are a challenge, you can’t get a new system.”
Due to the complexity of UNC’s AFAM scandal, the NCAA was tasked with applying its bylaws to facts that were not a clean fit. The NCAA had no grounds for alleging academic fraud in the initial notice of allegations last May, instead electing to charge impermissible benefits by way of ASPSA academic counselors and their special arrangements with AFAM faculty and staff.
The NCAA’s own academic reform in 2003, which brought about laxer admissions policies and the controversial academic progress rate, fueled the rise of academic support programs across the country. Those programs, such as UNC’s Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA), are designed to help student-athletes navigate the challenges of school-sport balance by providing help and guidance.
Without evidence to suggest the counselors’ complicity in the AFAM paper courses, the NCAA’s allegation was not based on a specific bylaw. On Monday, that revelation was evident in the removal of the original first allegation of impermissible benefits. It was replaced by a failure to monitor charge relating to ASPSA and the AFAM department. While the amended notice of allegations indicated this charge as a potential Level I offense, indicating a severe breach of conduct, the NCAA’s violation structure labels failure to monitor charges as Level II offenses.
The wording in the NCAA’s lack of institutional control allegation was also softened, directing significant blame from ASPSA to the College of Arts and Sciences:
“Specifically, the AFRI/AFAM department created anomalous courses that were available to the general student body and went unchecked for at least six years. As a result of the institution's obligation and ability to provide academic support services to student-athletes, and as a result of the relationships between the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) and the AFRI/AFAM department, student-athletes had increased exposure to the anomalous course offerings.”
In his media teleconference on Monday, Cunningham referred a question about the removal of the impermissible benefits charge to the NCAA, later adding that it wasn’t necessarily a surprise given the communication process involved over the past year.
“It’s been 10-11 months since we received the initial notice, but the dialogue, the investigation, the communication has been constant the entire time,” Cunningham said. “So as I mentioned, this has gone on a long time, there’s voluminous amounts of information and as we continue to provide information to the NCAA, they ask questions, they measure it against bylaws and against their historical precedent, and now these are the allegations that we’re left with and that we’re obligated to respond to.”
When asked if the complexity of the case and matching the contents with the ever-changing NCAA bylaws was difficult, Cunningham said, “Yes, I think it was, and I think that’s why it took so long, quite frankly.”
Cunningham reiterated on several occasions during the call that UNC had provided voluminous amounts of information and the enforcement staff was tasked with determining if a bylaw had been violated and therefore warranted an allegation.
It will be difficult to argue against Allegations No. 2 and No. 3 (unethical conduct), given the refusal of former AFAM chair Julius Nyang’oro and former AFAM administrator Deborah Crowder to talk to the NCAA. The broad scope of the failure to monitor and lack of institutional control charges will provide UNC and its legal team with an avenue to possibly challenge those allegations before the Committee on Infractions.
“Failure to monitor and institutional control are things that we’ve worked on for four years,” Cunningham said. “We feel confident in our systems, but we’re always concerned that we’re human and that we can make some mistakes. As we respond to that allegation, we’ll certainly dig deeper into what they believe are the underlying factual informations that support those allegations and try to minimize our risk going forward.”
A NCAA spokesperson confirmed on Monday that all involved parties will be given 90 days to respond to the notice, meaning that even if UNC has its response ready early, the lack of response by Jan Boxill, Nyang’oro or Crowder could delay the next step until the 90-day window collapses.