NCAA Says UNC “Sham” Classes Did Not Violate Rules

On October 13, 2017, an NCAA panel ruled that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) did not violate NCAA policy for offering “sham” classes. The issues in the case were discovered in August 2011 and the following three years in which UNC conducted a number of internal and external reviews. The reviews led to a criminal indictment against Julius Nyang’oro, the former chair of the department of the “sham” classes, for obtaining property by false pretenses. Those charges were later dropped.

A report conducted by the law firm Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP, who was hired in February 2014 for a deeper investigation, showed the offering of “paper courses.” The report showed hundreds of “paper courses” offered by Nyang’oro and Deborah Crowder, former curriculum secretary, between 1993 and 2011 that affected about 3,100 students. These sham classes also led to a proposed class action brought by student-athletes in January 2015 against UNC and the NCAA for allegedly being funneled into classes that had no educational value. Also, in response to the report, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges placed UNC on one year of probation and the NCAA issued its first notice of allegations in May 2015, with amended notices in April 2016 and December 2016.

A two-day hearing was held in August 2017, which resulted in the NCAA’s decision that there was no violation of NCAA policy. The NCAA Committee on Infractions held that although student-athletes likely benefitted from the “paper courses,” there was no information in the record that the courses were solely created, offered, and maintained as an effort to benefit student-athletes. Further, it is not a violation in and of itself of NCAA bylaws to offer classes that do not meet UNC’s own academic standards. There was also no showing of extra benefits given to student-athletes, improper assistance given to student-athletes, or that the university lacked control of its athletic programs and the counselor. The panel also noted that they were troubled by UNC’s shifting positions on whether academic fraud occurred on the campus and Cadwalader report, but under NCAA policy the NCAA defers to member schools to determine the occurrence of academic fraud.

The only violation found by the panel was failure to cooperate by both Nyong’oro and Crowder. Nyang’oro, who never cooperated, was issued a five-year show-cause order that requires any NCAA member school he is employed with to show why he should not be restricted from athletically related activity. Crowder, who cooperated three years into the investigation, was not issued a show-cause order but record of her delayed cooperation will be held by the Committees on Infractions Office. UNC stated that it believes the outcome of the case is correct and fair.

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