CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN/AP) — The NCAA infractions committee panel handling North Carolina’s multi-year academic case plans released its ruling Friday morning.
The committee ruled that they “could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules.”
“While student-athletes likely benefited from the so-called ‘paper courses’ offered by North Carolina, the information available in the record did not establish that the courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” said Greg Sankey, the panel’s chief hearing officer and commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.
“NCAA policy is clear. The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred and, ultimately, the panel is bound to making decisions within the rules set by the membership,” Sankey added.
The panel said that a former department chair and a former curriculum secretary failing to cooperate with the investigations were the two violations found in the case.
The committee said those two uncooperative former employees are the only two individuals who knew the full extent of what occurred.
Associated Press sources said the NCAA notified parties involved in the case Thursday morning. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the school nor the NCAA had commented publicly on the release.
Chancellor Carol Folt released a statement following the NCAA’s decision that read in part:
I am grateful that this case has been decided and the University can continue to focus on delivering the best possible education to our students. We wish to thank the NCAA staff and the Committee on Infractions for their work and time during the joint investigation and hearing process.
Carolina long ago publicly accepted responsibility for what happened in the past. One of the highest priorities of this administration has been to resolve this issue by following the facts, understanding what occurred, and taking every opportunity to make our University stronger. We have been open and transparent in everything we have done, as documented on our Carolina Commitment website.
The resolution of this case is part of a comprehensive effort working with administrators, faculty and staff across campus and with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, our accrediting agency, to fully address these issues.
The ruling comes roughly eight weeks after UNC appeared before the infractions panel in August in Nashville, Tennessee, for a two-day hearing that included Chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.
The focus of the investigation was independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies department on the Chapel Hill campus. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes but didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.
In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports making up roughly half the enrollments.
The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.
The oft-delayed case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program resulting in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and again in December.
The NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations, then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.
UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter.
The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”
UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.
In addition to Sankey, the infractions panel included former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.