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DeCock: UNC athletic, academic case not over yet, nor is it anywhere close

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
ldecock@newsobserver.com
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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One week ago was the fourth anniversary of the NCAA’s very first inquiry into the University of North Carolina. Four years. And it’s not over yet. With the NCAA reopening its investigation yet again, it’s nowhere close.

Four years. The NCAA investigation is almost old enough to enroll in kindergarten. Students have arrived on campus, matriculated and graduated since it began.

What began as a probe into impermissible benefits in the football program – Marvin Austin and Greg Little, please step forward – uncovered agents afoot and soon crossed over into academic misconduct, with detours covering a U-Haul truck filled with drugs, South Beach clubs and a tutor who handed out cash to players, wrote papers for them and worked as an in-home instructor for Butch Davis’ son.

One tutor led to one plagiarized paper that led to one transcript that led to one department full of phony classes that led to one inadequate and very expensive report that led to one whistleblower that led to many, many protestations and recriminations from the second North Carolina administration to trumpet jargon-laden “reforms” instead of real action.

Butch Davis, Dick Baddour and Holden Thorp were all put out to pasture along the way, three of the most prominent names to be associated with this long drama in some fashion.

To name but a few of the others who have popped up along the way: Austin, Little, John Blake, Gary Wichard, Mel Kiper Jr., Cam Thomas, Kentwan Balmer, Drew Rosenhaus, Jennifer Wiley, Chris Hawkins, Howard Manning, Julius Peppers, Julius Nyang’oro, Deborah Crowder, Joe Cheshire, Tom “Triple Play” O’Brien, Michael McAdoo, Jim Martin, Matt Kupec, Tami Hansbrough, Jan Boxill, anonymous Pack Pride posters, Jay Smith, Mary Willingham, Rashad McCants, Roy Williams, Jim Woodall, Carol Folt, Bob Orr, Kenneth Wainstein and Bill Friday.

That list includes coaches, players, judges, politicians, academics, rivals, whistleblowers, lawyers, alumni and perhaps the most distinguished citizen ever associated with the university, the late Friday, whose legacy as a college-athletics reformer continues to be dishonored. He warned against exactly what has happened with the football scandal and the apparent widespread academic fraud in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies.

Needless to say, the scandal refuses to go away, no matter how many North Carolina administrators have wished it so. The threat of prosecution by Woodall, the Orange County district attorney, appears to have secured Nyang’oro’s cooperation with Wainstein, the former Justice Department official hired to conduct yet another pricey probe.

The NCAA’s announcement Monday that it will reopen its investigation into the AFAM department was no surprise after Nyang’oro started talking privately and McCants unburdened himself very publicly on ESPN.

The Martin Report’s completely unsupported conclusion that “this was not an athletic scandal” appears less defensible by the day. The firewall North Carolina has so desperately built between athletics and academics with the explicit intention of keeping the NCAA from coming back onto campus has collapsed.

“The worry is that this could further raise NCAA issues and that is not the intention,” Boxill, the chairman of the faculty council, wrote in an email urging a report be edited to remove a reference to the bogus AFAM classes possibly being used to keep athletes eligible.

That was July 2012. Two years later, that facade has fallen. North Carolina couldn’t delay the inevitable.

Now emerged from a few years of its own turmoil, in part mitigated by an investigation into its enforcement department by the same Wainstein, the NCAA is coming back to Chapel Hill.

Four years gone, and we’re nowhere close to the end. We’re just getting started. Again.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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