UNC Attempts to Block NCAA’s Latest Allegations Over “Sham” Classes

On Friday, May 26, 2017, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill made public their response to the NCAA’s third, and latest, NCAA notice of allegation of sham course for athletes. Their response included that the classes in question were available to all students and any irregularities were academic in nature and not subject to NCAA enforcement. The NCAA’s latest notice of allegations were filed at the close of 2016, and accused UNC of providing improper extra benefits to student-athletes so that they could remain eligible for athletic competition.

These allegations stem from a 2014 investigatory report by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein. The report found that from 1993–2011, more than 3,100 UNC students took classes in the African-American and Afro-American Studies department, which did not require attendance. The courses had no oversight from a professor, and only asked the students to write a single term paper. Nearly all students that turned in the paper received either an A or a B, regardless of the quality of their work. Wainstein’s report further found that 48 percent, or almost 1,500, of those enrolled were North Carolina athletes. Football and men’s basketball were responsible for 24.5 percent of enrollments in the suspect courses.

Six months ago, UNC made largely procedural arguments to the infractions committee to try and shoot down the NCAA’s case relating to sham classes. These arguments were rejected, and the NCAA continued with its prosecution of UNC. However, UNC was allowed to keep delaying its response to the NCAA’s notice, the most recent delay stemming from Deborah Crowder’s decision to be interviewed by NCAA investigators. Crowder had previously declined the NCAA’s interview request for the past three years, but agreed just last week.

The new notice by the NCAA added allegations of unethical conduct and impermissible conduct against the two creators of the classes, former chairman of the African and Afro-American Studies department, Julius Nyang’oro, and Crowder, his longtime administrative assistant. Crowder graded a majority of the term papers before she retired in 2009. Crowder was also a big fan of UNC athletics, particularly its men’s basketball team, but she said in an affidavit that the classes were legitimate and she was trying to help all academically challenged students at UNC, not just the athletes. She also contended in her interview that Nyang’oro initially graded the papers for the classes, and she only took that task over because he was traveling frequently.

UNC maintains that the issues in the allegations are all academic, and thus, were not a violation of NCAA athletic rules. They also included that because there is no underlying violation, “there cannot be a failure to monitor or lack of institutional control.” The university did not dispute that Nyang’oro had failed to cooperate in the investigation and took no position on an allegation that Crowder also failed to cooperate. Crowder and Nyang’oro are further alleged to have made special arrangements for student-athletes by contacting the athletic department to get students into courses, even after the enrollment deadline, and even submitting papers on behalf of the student-athletes.

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