College Sports

NCAA revises its entire approach to UNC scandal

The NCAA didn’t just revise the notice of allegations against North Carolina during the eight-month intermission in this interminable process. Between August and April, the NCAA somehow revised its entire approach to the scandal.

Out went the broad allegations of impermissible academic assistance that included football and men’s basketball, among other sports. In its place, the revised notice received from the NCAA on Monday takes a far narrower reading of NCAA bylaws, one that instead drops a sledgehammer on the women’s basketball program and that program alone.

While North Carolina still faces the NCAA’s most serious charges, lack of institutional control and failure to monitor, the revised notice of allegations omits much of the previous language that described the phony classes and grade changes as “impermissible extra benefits” and specifically mentioned football and men’s and women’s basketball players as benefiting from them.

That language could have given the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions license to identify many individual athletes and teams that used players who would have been otherwise ineligible; instead, after this eight-month delay, that phrasing is limited to Jan Boxill and the women’s basketball team. There were 252 references to exhibits that showed how football, men’s basketball, women’s soccer, baseball and other athletes were involved; the amended notice makes no such references, and North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said there were only 112 (not yet redacted and released) exhibits that go with it.

The allegations have become more general and less specific, with the exception of Boxill, who continues to play an oddly prominent role, as if she alone conceived, perpetrated and hid all of the malfeasance. Boxill, the former faculty chairwoman, served as women’s basketball athletics academic counselor in the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes.

The reality is that countless people who should have known better played a role for two decades, whether by admitting unqualified athletes, shunting them into phony classes or merely looking the other way.

They’re set up to get a free pass, as are any number of programs that competitively benefited from the academic fraud over the years, including the two big money-makers, football and men’s basketball.

The NCAA has been scrambling to figure out a way to deal with the North Carolinas of the future, because as things stand, there’s nothing to stop anyone from setting up a fake department for its athletes and claiming it meets university standards, the academics who oversee the NCAA being deathly afraid of interfering with “curriculum,” as if all of its strictures regarding entrance requirements and academic progress and so on don’t have the same effect.

The NCAA’s newest proposal, which could be approved as early as Thursday, is to require universities to adopt their own academic misconduct policies, which the NCAA can then penalize them for violating, the kind of contrived contortion that could only come from a bureaucracy that is charged with prosecuting its own membership. Academic fraud should require the same parsing as former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s view of obscenity: You know it when you see it.

That’s why the UNC scandal has been the knot the NCAA can’t untangle, why it resorted to using impermissible benefits as a blanket charge in the original notice of allegations. Had that thread been followed into the transcripts, it could have resulted in scores if not hundreds of athletes being declared retroactively ineligible, just as if they’d taken money from an agent.

It was always pushing the outside of the envelope of the NCAA’s own procedures. Apparently, eight months was enough time for the NCAA to reconsider – or be convinced to reconsider by North Carolina and its lawyers. As Cunningham said Monday, the revision process is not “a one-way street.”

“They measured it against their bylaws and historical precedent, and this is what we’re left with,” Cunningham said.

Turns out Roy Williams and Larry Fedora weren’t just telling recruits what they wanted to hear. They must have known the conversations taking place with the NCAA.

Now, the university is likely to face punishment only as an institution – except for the women’s basketball program, which has been positioned to bear the full brunt of the NCAA’s wrath, ever so conveniently.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947,, @LukeDeCock

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