UNC avoids major sanctions in academics fraud case

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UNC avoids major sanctions in academics fraud case. (WTVD)

The NCAA infractions committee panel handling North Carolina's multi-year academic fraud case said Friday it "could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules when it made available deficient Department of African and Afro-American Studies "paper courses" to the general student body, including student-athletes."

The decision means the school will not face any additional penalties.


The latest:

* Level I infraction levied against former department chair
* Level II infraction levied against secretary
* No punishments levied against the university
* 11 a.m. press conference scheduled

"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.

FAQ: How and why North Carolina escaped sanctions from the NCAA

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 faced five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.

READ MORE: A full North Carolina vs. the NCAA primer

The focus of the investigation was independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) 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.

The NCAA Friday did levy a Level I violation against AFAM department chair Julius Nyang'oro and a Level II violation against a department secretary.

"Based on the nature of the case and the posture of the record, the panel concludes that the only violations in this case are the department chair's and the secretary's failure to cooperate. The infractions process requires the cooperation of all individuals with pertinent information. Here, both were key figures at the center of UNC's academic shortcomings," said the panel.

Following the decission, Folt made this statement to studnets, staff, and alumni:

"The hearing panel found no NCAA bylaw violations by the University ... We believe this is the correct-and fair-outcome. 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 ..."

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 (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.

UNC 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.

Friday, the panel said it also did not conclude, based on the record before it, that extra benefits were provided to student-athletes.

"While student-athletes likely benefited from the courses, so did the general student body," said Sankey. "Additionally, the record did not establish that the university created and offered the courses as part of a systemic effort to benefit only student-athletes."

UNC officials reacted with relief and said they were pleased to put the case behind them in statements released to media.

"We are glad the case is over, and appreciate the time and effort the Committee members took in examining the complete record of this case," said Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham. "I want to thank Chancellor Folt and my colleagues in the administration and faculty, our student-athletes, coaches, staff, and our tremendous Carolina community for their support. Carolina Athletics is an important and meaningful part of campus life, and we look forward to continuing to fulfill our mission of inspiring and educating through athletics."

Fedora wasn't coaching in Chapel Hill through this sordid ordeal, and said he's ready to move on.

"I want to thank Bubba Cunningham, Vince Ille and Chancellor Folt for their leadership throughout this process," Fedora said. "I am glad that we will be able to put this behind us and move forward as a university and football program."

Basketball coach Williams echoed similar sentiments.

"We're certainly thankful the case has been decided and this great University can move forward," Williams said. "We appreciate the hard work and effort from so many people in presenting the facts of the case to the Committee. I thank Chancellor Folt and Bubba (Cunningham) for their leadership. This is my alma mater and I love it deeply. We've all learned to be a better university from this case. Now we can focus completely on our mission of teaching and coaching our student-athletes and helping the university reach its dreams and goals."

"We're just so excited to put this past us so we can concentrate on coaching these outstanding young ladies," Hatchell said. "I want to thank Chancellor Folt for her support and leadership. Everyone at the University, from Bubba Cunningham to the folks in compliance, worked together as a team to resolve this matter. Our basketball team is working hard in the preseason and we look forward to the start of the season."

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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