CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – ESPN basketball analyst and attorney Jay Bilas offered a scathing critique of the NCAA’s handling of its investigation into academic irregularities at the University of North Carolina during an interview with reporters on Friday.
UNC received its third notice of allegations in December after Committee on Infractions chair Greg Sankey utilized a procedural hearing to raise concerns about the previous notice of allegations and instructed the NCAA’s enforcement staff to rewrite its notice. Sankey, who also serves as SEC commissioner, denied UNC’s request to include two letters in the record for the panel to consider as evidence during the October hearing.
‘The committee then cited the absence of the very same evidence in the instructions it gave to the enforcement staff to revisit the second notice of allegations,” UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in December. “That means the university was deprived the opportunity to submit evidence in the case record and the committee used the lack of evidence against us."
The NCAA also failed to share pertinent information related to the investigation with school officials in 2013. UNC and its counsel discovered the documents in a visit to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis in July 2015.
Bilas has been a vocal critic of the NCAA’s breach of protocol in UNC’s case in recent months. The former Duke standout broached that topic again, as well as highlighting Sankey’s conflict of interest, during his interview at the Smith Center. His full comments are below:
"I’m on record as saying, ‘Look, my following this is not an issue of passing judgment on what happened here as being right or wrong. What happened here was profoundly wrong.’
"But under the rules of the NCAA and their bylaws, there’s a reason why the notices of allegations don’t say academic fraud. It’s because the NCAA doesn’t recognize that as academic fraud. Years and years ago, the presidents told the NCAA, ‘stay out of our curriculum, stay out of our course offerings, don’t tell us what to do there.’ A rules-based organization is not allowed to violate its own rules to get the result it wants, and that’s exactly what’s happening. There have been three different notices of allegations, and I find it profoundly unfair, when you are required by the rules to answer the allegations, that people say, ‘how arrogant of them to make their case.’ They’re required to make their case. That’s the whole point of the system. It’s like when you stand up in court and say, ‘not guilty,’ they go, ‘how could you say that?’ Because you’re required to do it. They’re arguing their case.
"The decision-making authority there, the Committee on Infractions – I don’t think the system is very well-run. I don’t think a sitting commissioner (Sankey) should be in charge of the Committee on Infractions. That’s a conflict of interest that you cannot waive and – no matter how good your judgment is – you cannot get past. But that aside, listen to the arguments. If they’re compelling, if you agree, don’t agree, whatever, but there’s nothing wrong with them making their argument. They should defend themselves. And they’re right.
"Their arguments, in my judgment, are correct, based upon the rules and the bylaws of the NCAA. They’re absolutely correct, but people don’t want to hear that. They want a pound of flesh. And it goes beyond what the rules are and goes to sort of a moralistic argument. And so, ‘who cares what the rules are? Hit them with a bag of hammers because I don’t like this.’ That’s not the way the system works. I think the NCAA should follow their own rules, because they make everybody else follow theirs. So they should follow their own, and right now they’re not doing that. That’s pretty clear."
ACC commissioner John Swofford also raised concerns in January about the NCAA’s enforcement process of including people who work within college sports to determine penalties. Bylaw 19.3.4, which addresses potential conflicts of interest, places the power of objection with the committee chair.
UNC’s approach to the investigation has been based in following the NCAA’s bylaws and regulations, and that will continue through the conclusion of the enforcement process, according to sources familiar with the situation. However, sources confirm, the university is prepared to take legal action if the Committee on Infractions hands down an unjust punishment in the penalty phase.