Deborah Crowder's Emergence Alters NCAA Dynamic for UNC

UNC's response to its third notice of allegations has been delayed.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Deborah Crowder’s decision to file an affidavit last week has added yet another twist in the NCAA’s ongoing investigation into academic irregularities at the University of North Carolina.

Crowder, a former office administrator in the institution’s African studies department (AFAM), was the centerpiece of Kenneth Wainstein’s October 2014 report detailing a “shadow curriculum” in which more than 3,100 students, nearly half of them athletes, received credit for classes that required minimal work and were graded by the nonacademic.

Crowder’s first public comments since the Wainstein Report’s release came four days before her - and UNC's - response to the NCAA’s latest notice of allegations was due. In that third notice, the NCAA alleges that Crowder and AFAM department chair Julius Nyang’oro “violated the principles of ethical conduct and extra-benefit legislation in connection with certain anomalous AFRI/AFAM courses” and that the athletic department leveraged its relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to obtain special arrangements for student-athletes.

Her affidavit, filed in Chatham County on March 8, states “the purpose of the courses in question was to help all students, not to provide any special assistance to athletes.” She denies designing the courses and says the claim that the papers required relatively little work is not true.

Charged as an involved individual by the NCAA, Crowder was provided the allegations in December and given a 90-day window to respond. She elected not to respond following the NCAA’s initial and amended notice of allegations in recent years. Her decision to finally speak out following the second amend notice of allegations was prompted by the NCAA’s intent to include the Wainstein Report as evidence in the investigation, according her attorney, Elliot Abrams of the Cheshire Group.

“If the report is used for the University to have closure about what happened and is put on a shelf, that’s one thing,” Abrams said in an interview with Inside Carolina this week, “but once it became clear that it was going to be used and it appears the conclusions from it would be used as evidence itself or potentially as fact, she knew that a lot of those conclusions just were inaccurate…

“I think Wainstein did a thorough job and did what he’s supposed to do, which is draw his own conclusions or develop opinions based on evidence, but I’ve gone through line by line of portions that relate to her and a lot of this conclusion that she had some desire to help athletes and give them an advantage above and beyond the regular student just isn’t true. Her focus absolutely was on helping students and the Wainstein Report, for some reason, develops a focus and at least insinuates that the whole purpose of this was athletics when it just wasn’t.”

The Wainstein Report elevated UNC’s AFAM academic scandal into a national story fueled by the strength of its narrative and not by the veracity of its truth. In the years following the NCAA’s reopening of its inquiry into the academic irregularities in June 2014, the institution and the NCAA’s enforcement staff had proceeded with the understanding, in according with the bylaws, that the Wainstein Report was solely intended to provide an account of what transpired and not to serve as any type of legal document to determine culpability.

There were no recordings or transcripts of the interviews, no questions pertaining to the application of specific NCAA bylaws and no NCAA or institution representatives present for the interviews. Committee on Infractions chair Greg Sankey nixed that agreement at a procedural hearing in October, thereby lowering the standard of evidence to include the Wainstein Report despite its failing to meet NCAA enforcement staff guidelines.

That decision has brought the Wainstein Report back to the forefront.

“When she realized all of this stuff was going to come in from the Wainstein Report and there wasn’t going to be another opportunity to tell the story,” Abrams said, “then she felt like, ‘Then I just have to do this now. I don’t want to bring more attention on myself, I wish none of this was an issue, but I can’t let all of these kids be harmed because of what I did, particularly because what I did was out of an effort to help them and give them every opportunity to earn a degree, even when they’re facing difficult situations.’ And to have that same conduct turned around to devalue their degrees is really painful for her.”

The NCAA has no subpoena power, so it has no means in which to force Crowder to interview with its enforcement staff. However, the inaccuracy of the allegations, according to Abrams, has compelled his client to consider cooperating, provided the NCAA offers legitimate opportunity to review the record and prepare for a topic that began in 1993.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the NCAA had not provided Abrams with access to its case file due to technical difficulties with its online system.

A school spokesperson confirmed this week that UNC had not submitted its response and that school officials “are awaiting guidance from the Committee on Infractions on a new schedule.” NCAA spokeswoman Emily James told the Associated Press on Wednesday that UNC had requested “a short extension” to its 90-day deadline prior to Crowder submitting her affidavit.

Ben Sherman contributed to this report.

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