By Dan Kane
April 25, 2016
The NCAA handed UNC-Chapel Hill a new notice of allegations Monday – a much smaller, 13-page document that is a gentler take on the academic-athletic scandal than the first notice delivered nearly a year ago.
The new notice removed an impermissible benefits charge that pertained to athletes who took fake classes from the fall of 2002 through the summer of 2011, and replaced it with a failure to comply with rules charge that starts in the fall of 2005. The new notice continues to assess a lack of institutional control charge against UNC, but also limits the misconduct to the fall of 2005 going forward for athletes in sports other than women’s basketball.
Football and men’s basketball are no longer mentioned as leading beneficiaries of the fake classes. In fact, the notice doesn’t mention them at all, and instead cites misconduct involving athletes in general in the lack of institutional control and failure to comply allegations.
The new notice, as expected, includes more examples of misconduct by Jan Boxill, a former academic counselor to the women’s basketball team. The NCAA said Boxill provided extra impermissible benefits by writing parts of papers in 15 cases, completing a quiz in another and asking for specific grades for two athletes. UNC had brought additional examples of Boxill’s misconduct to the NCAA in August, which caused a delay in the case as the NCAA prepared a new notice of allegations.
An attorney for Boxill, the former faculty leader who was forced to retire last year, said the allegations in the notice are “incorrect and based on email conversations that were taken out of context.”
“Dr. Boxill has never spoken publicly about the scandal, but she did testify before the NCAA,” said attorney Randall Roden. “She explained that she did not know anything about the fake classes or who was grading the papers – and no one connected to the women’s basketball team knew those things. There is no legitimate reason for the women’s basketball team to be singled out for special scrutiny or punishment.”
The notice said Boxill’s conduct was so egregious that the NCAA waived its four-year statute of limitations. That statute wasn’t mentioned for the other allegations, including lack of institutional control.
The new notice says others in the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes did not know what they were doing was wrong.
“Because of this failure of leadership and oversight, those charged with providing academic support for student-athletes did not believe their actions or the actions of the AFRI/AFAM department were inappropriate,” the new notice said.
Five Level I infractions
A detailed investigation backed by UNC found the scandal began in 1993, after Deborah Crowder, a former departmental manager for the African and Afro-American Studies department received complaints from academic counselors to the athletes about the rigor of the department’s independent studies. Crowder, an ardent UNC basketball fan who was not a faculty member, began creating the classes and grading them.
Her boss, professor Julius Nyang’oro, continued the classes after Crowder retired in 2009. Nyang’oro, the department chairman, was forced to retire in 2012.
Athletes made up half of the roughly 3,100 students enrolled in the classes, with men’s football and men’s basketball leading the athletic enrollments. Experts say it’s the worst academic fraud in the NCAA’s history, but the NCAA in both notices has not labeled the classes as fraudulent.
NCAA officials declined to comment on the new notice. UNC did not make public any evidentiary exhibits associated with the new notice, which are expected to be released after redactions.
All five allegations in the notice are “Level 1” infractions that can carry serious penalties such as vacated wins and championships, post-season bans, scholarship reductions and heavy fines. The new notice, just as the first, asks UNC to respond to potential NCAA championship losses and fines for having ineligible athletes competing in those championships.
That would presumably put the 2009 men’s basketball championship in play, but the athletes on that team had far fewer enrollments in fake classes than the 2005 team, which had heavy enrollments in the classes.
The notice is not the final word in the case, which now will require a response from UNC within 90 days, followed by a hearing before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.
Cheers and disbelief
The new notice drew cheers from UNC sports fans on Twitter, while fans of other schools tweeted disbelief.
Jay Smith, a UNC history professor who is a leading critic of the university’s handling of the case, said the new notice appeared to shield the 2005 men’s championship, which he called “the most-stained championship in UNC’s history.” The NCAA is largely supported by revenues from the men’s basketball tournament, and has never taken away a championship.
“I would say that the NCAA has proven once again why it’s an ineffective regulatory body, a paper tiger,” said Smith, who co-authored a book about the scandal with whistleblower Mary Willingham.
Others contend the NCAA should not be delving into the classes at the heart of the scandal. Jay Bilas, a former Duke basketball player and college basketball analyst for ESPN, has said that academic matters belong to the universities and their accrediting commissions.
Bilas contends the classes, were easy, not fake.
“Easy and fraudulent are different,” Bilas tweeted Monday. “The UNC matter is an accreditation issue, not an NCAA issue.”
UNC’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, put the university on probation for failing academic integrity standards and a lack of control over college sports, among other violations. But the accrediting agency has no authority over athletic contests, and probation is the strongest penalty it can mete beyond effectively shutting down a school by pulling its accreditation, which is unlikely to happen to UNC in this case.
In a telephone news conference, UNC’s Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham attributed the length of time between the first and second NCAA notices to the complexity of the case. In the interim, UNC’s men’s basketball team reached the championship game, only to fall short on a buzzer beater.
“It’s voluminous in nature and it’s over an extended period of time.” Cunningham said of the case. “So I think the volume and the time is probably why it has lasted this long.”
He said he did not know why the NCAA reduced the time frame for misconduct from the first notice.