Last updated (10/13/2017, 1:15 p.m.) with a response from the university.
The NCAA stopped short on Friday of handing down penalties that many at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had feared would result from the association’s investigation of the academic and athletic scandal that has rocked the campus for years. The NCAA announced in a report that it “could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules.” Some observers had feared the association would ban the men’s basketball team from postseason play, or would nullify one of its national championships.
The report, by the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Committee on Infractions, appears to end the association’s yearslong probe of the notorious fake-classes scam at UNC, which a 2014 bombshell report exposed in shocking detail. In short, the 2014 report found that, for decades, advisers funneled athletes through fake classes in the African-American-studies department as part of a scheme to keep them eligible to compete. Thousands of students — not all of them athletes — took the courses, but the report found that knowledge of the setup was widespread in the athletics department, and that athletes disproportionately benefited.
The association refrained from levying not only harsh penalties but virtually any penalties at all. The only penalties mentioned in the decision had to do with two individuals’ failure to cooperate with the investigation.
The university had argued that the fake courses were outside the purview of the association. In its decision, the NCAA committee said that it was bound by its own policies, which rely on member colleges and universities to report instances in which their own academic policies were violated. “Because of this limitation, UNC’s decision to support the courses as legitimate,” the NCAA wrote, “combined with a stale and incomplete record that does not allow the panel to drill down to the course and assignment level — even if the panel had wanted to second-guess the courses — it cannot conclude academic fraud occurred.”
The university had also argued that the fake-classes scheme was an academic issue, and therefore in the purview of its accreditor. (The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges put the university on probation for one year, in 2015.) Chapel Hill had also signaled that it would appeal or sue over punishments it judged too harsh.
In a written statement, the university’s chancellor, Carol Folt, said: “This is the correct — and fair — outcome.” She added: “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.”