More than three years after the NCAA opened an investigation into how bogus African Studies courses benefited athletes at UNC-Chapel Hill, university officials convened here on Wednesday for UNC’s long-awaited hearing before the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
At least two of the coaches brought prominent North Carolina defense lawyers with them.
The appearance is the next step in a long-running case that began when the NCAA notified UNC on June 30, 2014, that it was opening an investigation. That letter, a notice of inquiry, arrived at UNC 1,143 days ago.
Now, after several stops and restarts in a case that has included three notices of allegations and combative correspondence between the NCAA and UNC’s legal team, the university’s day in court – the NCAA’s version, at least – has finally arrived.
The hearing began at 8:30 local time, and several UNC officials and coaches walked into a conference room here moments before the hearing began. Among them: chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham and coaches Larry Fedora, Sylvia Hatchell and Roy Williams.
Each of the coaches came with lawyers.
Jim Cooney of Charlotte, who represented former Sen. John Edwards, former Gov. Mike Easley and Duke Power in recent years, is here with Williams, the men’s basketball coach. Raleigh attorney Wade Smith, a well-known defense lawyer who was involved in the Duke lacrosse case and represented former state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, is representing Hatchell, the women’s basketball coach.
UNC is facing five Level I allegations, including lack of institutional control and impermissible benefits charges related to the courses at the heart of the case. It was unclear Wednesday morning how long the hearing, which is closed to the public, would last. It is expected to last into Thursday.
The infractions committee could accept the NCAA Enforcement Staff’s case, or the committee could alter the charges in some way, either by adding additional ones or rejecting arguments the enforcement staff has made. A final ruling in the case, one that would include penalties, is still likely several months away.