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North Carolina avoids punishment from NCAA for academic scandal

On Friday, the NCAA announced that it “could not conclude” that the University of North Carolina had violated academic rules, thus allowing the Tar Heels to avoid any punishment.

The NCAA had been investigating the Tar Heels for more than seven years over an academic scandal relating to “paper course” classes.

The focus centered on “lecture” classes in the former African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department at UNC that never actually met and only required students to write a paper or two while giving out high marks.

The NCAA’s thoughts were that UNC was using these courses as a way to keep athletes academically eligible. If this were the case, then those athletes would’ve received impermissible benefits (an NCAA violation), since the courses would’ve only been available to athletes.

UNC refuted this by claiming the courses were open to non-athletes as well.

[More from Excelle: NCAA launches initiative to raise awareness of Division I women’s college basketball]

Friday, the committee on infractions panel, led by commissioner of the Southeastern Conference Greg Sankey, announced their findings.

“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 Sankey.

Think about what that statement is saying. Likely benefited. Solely created. The NCAA is essentially saying that academic fraud had occurred over the course of almost 20 years, but constrained by their own guidelines, could not punish the institution.

Because UNC said the fraud was confined to the academic realm, rather than athletics, the NCAA had no jurisdiction.

“N.C.A.A. policy is clear,” said Sankey. “The N.C.A.A. 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.”

Ultimately, the panel only found two violations in the case; both for failure-to-cooperate against two people connected to the paper courses in the AFAM department. They had originally charged UNC with Level I violations including lack of institutional control and failure to monitor.

It doesn’t take a panel to recognize that academic fraud had been used as a way to keep athletes eligible, so what does that say about the NCAA as a whole? They are quick to point out the name “student-athlete,” but they only have the power to regulate one of those terms.

Basically, the NCAA can’t tell programs that their coursework is not hard enough.

There’s no doubt the panel wanted to find UNC guilty, that was evident by their repeated notice of allegations, and Sankey mentioned that the panel was “troubled” by UNC, but in the end, they were powerless.

This scandal could potentially create a slippery slope in the future, because who’s to stop another institution from doing the same thing as UNC?

Not the NCAA clearly.

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