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Sankey Recusal Requested from UNC Case

The SEC commissioner's potential conflict of interest continues to raise red flags.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – SEC commissioner Greg Sankey’s removal as Committee on Infractions chairman due to a conflict of interest in the University of North Carolina’s prolonged NCAA investigation has been officially requested.

Deborah Crowder, the former AFAM department administrator who was charged in UNC’s third notice of allegations with unethical conduct and violating extra-benefit legislation with regard to anomalous AFAM courses, made the request through her attorney, Elliot Abrams of Cheshire, Parker, Schneider & Bryan, in an April 4 letter to NCAA Vice President of Enforcement Jon Duncan.

The letter cited NCAA bylaw 19.3.4, which states “no member of a hearing panel shall participate in a case if he or she is directly connected with an institution under investigation or if he or she has a personal, professional or institutional affiliation that may create the appearance of partiality.” Abrams indicated Sankey’s role as SEC commissioner created the appearance of partiality, which has been a topic of conversation amongst talking heads in recent months. In February, ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas criticized the NCAA for allowing a sitting commissioner to be in charge of the Committee on Infractions.

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The NCAA website posted an article in late March detailing Sankey’s tie color options in support of SEC teams South Carolina and Florida in the East Regional. UNC ousted Kentucky, the SEC’s top basketball program, in the Elite Eight in Memphis.

“His participation is akin to the Commissioner of the SEC refereeing a championship game between an ACC team and an SEC team – after all, the purpose of the NCAA is to attempt to manage competition between conferences and teams,” Abrams wrote.

A second reason for the recusal request likely carries far greater importance. The NCAA determined that Auburn University did not commit academic fraud in 2005-06 by allowing student-athletes to take independent study classes taught by Sociology department chair Thomas Petee and adult education professor James Witte that required minimal, if any, time in the classroom. Petee taught 252 independent study courses in one academic year (2004-05).

Sankey was an associate SEC commissioner during that investigation, and therefore his participation in that review makes him a potential witness in UNC’s investigation due to the similarities in the cases, according to Abrams.

“This argument renders Mr. Sankey a potential witness in this matter because he personally possesses material factual information that is not part of the the record,” Abrams wrote.

A second letter from Crowder’s counsel to NCAA Director of Enforcement Tom Hosty, dated April 11, indicates a lack of response from the NCAA on the recusal request.

Further issues with the investigation process were highlighted, including a deadline of April 14, 2017 for an interview with Crowder, which Abrams cited as “arbitrary” given the length of allegations and the time needed to adequately prepare. The letter also details the NCAA’s refusal to allow accused individuals to print and save prevalent documents from the organization’s online portal. Only online reviews are permitted, which allows the NCAA enforcement staff to track which documents are reviewed and how often.

According to Abrams, the NCAA has confirmed this type of tracking occurs.

Crowder also raises the same concerns that UNC officials have expressed regarding the procedural hearing that took place in October. While Sankey’s September 26, 2016 letter detailing the hearing indicated the topics would be purely procedural in nature, the hearing panel used the opportunity to delved into the basis for the second notice of allegations.

The second letter concludes by requesting each of the panel members be removed under NCAA Bylaw 19.5.1.2.

PDF: Letter to NCAA Regarding Conflict of Interest

PDF: Letter to NCAA Requesting Additional Information


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