CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Following the stunning revelations in the report on academic fraud at UNC Chapel Hill released by former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein, the question now becomes what will the NCAA do about it?
Over nearly two decades, student athletes were funneled into so called "paper classes" within the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department from 1993 to 2011. There was no classroom time, and students merely had to hand in a paper at the end of the semester. Wainstein's report says the papers got lenient grading and many were plagiarized.
At a news conference Wednesday, Chancellor Carol Folt said at least nine university employees were fired or are under disciplinary review.
About 3,100 students - nearly half of them athletes - were involved. Most of the athletes were football players or members of the school's cherished basketball program, which won three of its five national titles during the scandal (1993, 2005, 2009).
The UNC case stands out among academic scandals at Harvard, Duke and the Naval Academy, said Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education who studies cheating.
"I think the existence of fake classes and automatic grades - you might say an athlete track, where essentially you might as well not have the university at all - I think that's pretty extreme. I hope it's pretty extreme," he said.
North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham wouldn't speculate on any possible sanctions.
"We'll work with the NCAA and work through the report with them as part of our ongoing investigation," Cunningham said. "That's going to take some time."
The scandal reached back to the final years of legendary men's basketball coach Dean Smith's tenure, as well as John Swofford's stint as athletic director before becoming Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner.
The NCAA reopened its probe over the summer. Cunningham said the school had no immediate plans to impose its own penalties as it did during an NCAA investigation into the football program that began in 2010.
The school and the NCAA said in a joint statement they would review Wainstein's report "under the same standards that are applied in all NCAA infractions cases." They declined to comment on possible rules violations.
The focus was courses that required only a research paper that was often scanned quickly by office administrator Deborah Crowder, who gave out high grades regardless of the quality of work. The report also outlined how counselors for athletes steered struggling students to the classes, with two counselors even suggesting grades. Several knew the courses were easy and didn't have an instructor.
Chancellor Carol Folt wouldn't identify the terminated employees or those facing disciplinary review.
"I think it's very clear that this is an academic, an athletic and a university problem," Folt said.
Wainstein's report said it found no evidence of similar problems in other departments. In addition, Hall of Fame men's basketball coach Roy Williams and other current coaches said they were aware there were independent study courses offering easy grades, but they didn't know the classes were fake.
Wainstein said he found no reason not to believe them.
Faculty and administration officials missed or looked past red flags, such as unusually high numbers of independent study course enrollments in the department, the report said.
"By the mid-2000s, these classes had become a primary - if not the primary - way that struggling athletes kept themselves from having eligibility problems," the report said.
Unlike previous inquiries by former Gov. Jim Martin and the school, Wainstein had the cooperation of the two people at the center of the scandal: former department chairman Julius Nyang'oro and Crowder, who retired in 2009.
Nyang'oro was indicted in December on a felony fraud charge, though it was dropped after he agreed to cooperate with Wainstein's probe. Crowder was never charged.
It was Crowder who started the paper classes to help struggling students with "watered-down requirements" not long after Nyang'oro became chairman in 1992, according to the report. Though not a faculty member, she registered students for the courses, assigned topics and handed out high grades regardless of the work and also signed Nyang'oro's name to grade rolls.
By 1999, in an apparent effort to work around the number of independent studies students could take, Crowder began offering lecture classes that didn't meet.
Crowder's attorney issued a statement on her behalf Thursday.
"When Ms. Crowder announced that she would cooperate with Mr. Wainstein's investigation, she said that she would offer her 'full and complete cooperation' and truthfully answer 'any and all questions' posed to her. Throughout the course of the investigation, she has done just that, no matter how difficult the answers were. Now that the Wainstein Report has been released and the investigation closed, Ms. Crowder is looking forward to moving on with her life. As a result, Ms. Crowder will not be making any further public statements and will not be granting any interviews," said Christopher Browning.
After Crowder's retirement in 2009, Nyang'oro met requests from football counselors to continue the sham classes and graded papers "with an eye to boosting" a student's grade-point average, according to the report. He stepped down in 2011 as questions were raised.
So far, nine UNC employees have either been fired or face disciplinary action.
Despite being an advocate for reforms early on in the academic scandal, ABC11 has learned former counselor turned faculty leader Jan Boxill is among them.
Her name is still on the door at UNC's Parr Center for Ethics. However, according to the investigative report, she was "assigning specific grades" upon Crowder's request.
Beth Bridger, a football counseling staffer is also facing disciplinary action. She gave a power point presentation on the importance of paper classes.
Jaimie Lee, another football counselor who "personally delivered student papers" to former AFAM Chair Julius Nyang'oro also lobbied for the extension of a paper class, according to Wainstein's report.
Bobbi Owen, a former associate dean is under scrutiny. Investigators say she met with Nyangoro, urging him to reduce enrollment in the paper classes, telling him to "get Crowder under control."
Whether fired or disciplined, it's unlikely all nine of the employees in question will face criminal charges.
"In this case you had unethical behavior," explained Jim Woodall, the Orange County District Attorney. "You certainly had academic impropriety. But, I don't think most of what happened rose to the level of being a crime."
Associated Press reporter Aaron Beard contributed to this report.