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New NCAA probe of UNC welcome

Maybe it’s just coincidence that the NCAA decided to reopen its probe of the UNC academic scandal as a highly visible former basketball player alleges basketball program irregularities, and as an important court case against the NCAA involving student-athletes wraps up in California.

Maybe.

And maybe the NCAA’s decision to further investigate athletic fraud and fake classes at the Chapel Hill campus of the University of North Carolina has nothing to do with a rising chorus of people of influence – congressmen, university leaders, former NCAA officials – lambasting the NCAA for failing to do its duty on behalf of student-athletes to ensure that schools help them get an education and not just play ball.

The NCAA wouldn’t say if its decision has anything to do with those things. On Monday, it issued a statement saying in part only that, “after determining that additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might be willing to speak with the enforcement staff, the NCAA has reopened its investigation.”

One of those “additional people” could be Rashad McCants. The former Tar Heel alleged last month that he took no-show classes at UNC to remain eligible to play basketball. The News & Observer reported that five members of the 2005 championship team were apparently enrolled in no-show classes to stay eligible.

Those charges have put a bigger spotlight on NCAA failures to aggressively probe problems – and not just at North Carolina. Former student-athletes, led by the former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, have sued in California, accusing the NCAA of denying them rights to their names, images and likenesses in violation of antitrust law.

Meanwhile Emmett Gill, a former NCAA adviser who heads the Student-Athletes Human Rights Project, said he believes the NCAA and UNC have largely ignored the alleged academic fraud to protect the NCAA amateur model. California Congressman Tony Cardenas in April threatened to subpoena NCAA officials, who he said failed to hold UNC accountable during their 2012 academic fraud probe which did not look at the independent studies no-show classes.

UNC’s own handling of the matter is problematic. It’s conducting yet another probe, and as it does prosecutors said recently that Julius Nyang’oro, the former professor who presided over the no-show classes, is cooperating and the felony charges against him may be dropped. And on Tuesday, whistleblower Mary Willingham sued UNC. She was demoted after speaking out.

Tom McMillen, secretary for the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, said recently that the NCAA has failed student athletes at several universities: “Kids who are walking out of these schools cannot read. They are getting degrees that are worthless.... The NCAA (says) you’re going to get an education. If these kids aren’t getting an education, the whole thing’s a sham.”

The NCAA has an obligation to student-athletes to ensure it’s not a sham. So, this new NCAA probe is welcome, but it needs to be a broad and serious one.

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