Originally written on Pitt Blather  |  Last updated 11/18/14

Maybe it’s because of all the scandal coverage is being devoted to Happy Valley. Maybe it’s because the school already punished itself in related events, including the firing of their head coach and forced resignation of the AD. Maybe it’s because it has been dragging on for some two years. Maybe it is because so many journalists happen to come from this school. Or maybe it’s because nearly two years later we still don’t exactly know who or how many players were part of the huge academic fraud scandal that happened at North Carolina.

Everyone knows about the agent-related scandal at UNC that ultimately cost Butch Davis his job. The other component that came out of the scandal was academic. And it has proven to be a huge infestation of a problem. One that involved an entire academic department and was wide-reaching through all of UNC athletics — though, with an extra emphasis on football.

Willis Brooks and Jay Smith, two UNC-CH history professors who are concerned about the case’s impact on the university’s academic integrity, said the enrollment and pay data suggest Nyang’oro had set up a system for athletes to get into classes they could pass.

“The only logic I can conjure is (Nyang’oro) was protecting seats,” said Brooks, a professor emeritus who served on the faculty athletic committee in the early 1990s. “And since the preponderance of people who took the seats are athletes, there is circumstantial evidence,” he said.

This included a class, “launched two days before the start of a summer 2011 semester and immediately filled with 18 football players and a former player. Academic advisers to the football players knew the class did not meet and only involved a term paper, but still placed the athletes in the classes.”

Newspapers looking into this found irregular classes dating back to 1999.

This seems like some major shenanigans going on at UNC to keep athletes academically eligible. The sort of thing that should be in the NCAA’s wheelhouse. Their big emphasis on the “student-athlete.” Something where the student part is being treated as a joke and diminishes the academics. Yeah, the NCAA isn’t going to do a thing.

The NCAA has said practically nothing about the academic fraud. UNC-CH officials have said it does not constitute an NCAA violation because nonathletes also had been enrolled in the bogus classes and were not treated differently. They have consistently said the bogus classes were not hatched to keep athletes eligible to play.

If so, two academic officials who have served on NCAA committees say the fraud may not fall under the association’s purview.

“One would have to decide that there was special treatment afforded to student-athletes in order to find that there’s a violation,” said Josephine Potuto, a former chairwoman of the NCAA’s committee on infractions. “There are ways to do it. But it’s not easy. You can’t do it simply by saying, ‘Hey, there are a lot of student-athletes in this class, and everybody got an A.’ That’s not going to get you there.”

Looks like a duck. Quack likes a duck. Definitely must be a lemming.

That’s right, the NCAA is actually not able to investigate because the way the NCAA rules are set, when it comes to academic fraud the school gets to determine if there was something funny going on. Only if they decide there was a problem does the NCAA get to come take a look.

Believe it or not, this has been used rather successfully to ward off scandals at Michigan and Auburn in recent years.

The NCAA, for example, did not get involved when the Ann Arbor News reported in a series in 2008 about a University of Michigan psychology professor who had taught 294 independent studies over a three-year period, with athletes taking up 85 percent of those courses. The university had defended the professor and the courses.

But the association hit Florida State University hard three years ago after a learning specialist and a tutor who worked with athletes had given them improper help, particularly in providing quiz answers for an online music course. Nonathletes also benefited because they also had access to those answers. The NCAA investigation cost the football team athletic scholarships and coach Bobby Bowden a dozen wins.

A case at Auburn University closely resembles what happened at UNC-CH. The NCAA found Auburn University committed minor violations – but not academic fraud – as a result of a sociology professor offering dozens of “directed-reading” courses that did not meet and involved little academic work.

Football players flocked to the classes, which pushed up their grade-point-averages, but nonathletes had taken them as well. The New York Times revealed the courses in 2006.

That is the defense schools use to ward off the NCAA investigations. If even one non-athlete took the class, then it was not an issue that related to keeping athletes eligible. It was just merely some questionable classes that happened to have some athletes in them. So remember, if you want to set up fake classes to help keep athletes eligible, be sure to sprinkle in some regular students to keep it “fair.”

Brain pan goes sproing.

The thing to always remember — and it is easy to forget with the NCAA — is that the NCAA rules are written by people who work for the universities. The NCAA looks incompetent, needlessly bureaucratic, inefficient, and clueless by design. They aren’t some monolithic outside oversight group. They exist because and for the benefit of the universities. They are the convenient whipping boy by fans, alum and even the school when the school does wrong. But, again, the idiocy is the plan.

Something even academics at UNC who are pissed about the whole mess recognize.

History professor Jay Smith was part of a large group of academicians that issued a statement in February on UNC athletic principles, urging openness, responsibility and mission consistency. Since then, he has seen the situation get exponentially worse.

“Of course it’s academic fraud,” Smith wrote in an email. “And it’s a form of fraud that was designed (by whom we can’t say yet) to keep athletes eligible, making plausible ‘progress toward the degree.’ I don’t blame the athletes — and that’s important to make clear. Many of us feel this way. It’s not the athletes’ fault that they’re often being shepherded through a bogus course of study, and are also made to pay the piper if they fall short of some measure invented by the NCAA.

“It’s the system that’s corrupt, and it’s the adults who benefit from the system — starting with school administrators and faculty — who have to have the gumption to live up to their moral obligations and say enough is enough.”

There are significant reasons for UNC to continue to claim that the academic fraud isn’t. That the very, very questionable classes were all legit.

Three percent of the students taking suspicious AFAM courses were basketball players – certainly a lower number than their football counterparts, but they also make up a much smaller percentage of the student population. Coach Roy Williams has declared that the academic scandal is not a basketball issue, but a university issue. But N&O investigative reporter Dan Kane made mention on his blog this summer of a two-year-old Indianapolis Star story on academics and basketball that now has greater resonance today.

The article, on the clustering of players in certain majors, noted that a whopping seven players from UNC’s 2005 national championship team graduated with degrees in African and Afro-American Studies. The Star quoted star player Sean May as saying he dropped a communications major and moved to Afro-American Studies after leaving for the NBA to get his degree faster.

May told the Star that AFAM offered “more independent electives, independent study. I could take a lot of classes during the season. Communications, I had to be there in the actual classroom. We just made sure all the classes I had to take, I could take during the summer.”

That raised more questions. Answers have not kept pace.

“I think it’s high time for all of us to know the full extent of the fraudulent behavior,” Smith wrote. “Were members of the 2009 and 2005 national championship teams also beneficiaries of the AFAM/AFRI scam? I for one see no reason to assume that they were not. If the university wants to prove they were not, the whole world is listening.”

Don’t mess with UNC basketball.

Still, this continues to be a huge mess for UNC. The agent scandal is unfinished. There is still a state investigation into that taking place. They have paid out some $467,000 in legal fees since the scandals started breaking in June 2010 through October 2011.

The school has fought the newspapers and outside groups seeking open records — apparently because they feel looking like they are trying to cover it up is better than what they actually did.

UNC-Chapel Hill athletic officials downplayed the impact of a tutor’s help on a football player’s paper while trying to get him reinstated by the NCAA, according to documents released late Wednesday.

The documents, heavily censored by the university, were first requested by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer in 2010 but were released only after a lawsuit by the two papers and several other media organizations. Much of the information released Wednesday relates to circumstances already widely known as a result of other records obtained and reported in the course of the investigation and through NCAA action taken in March.

Don’t worry, though, UNC has learned from this. Things have changed. Er, will change. At some nebulous point in the future.

[UNC AD Bubba] Cunningham said he has been focused on academic reform within the athletic department by evaluating how athletes wind up in certain courses, and what role the athletic department plays in course selection.

Though Cunningham referenced a system of “checks and balances” during his talk, he said afterward that the athletic department was still defining that system.

“We’re actually going back and looking at what happened in the past,” he said. “But what we’re starting to say is every minute that we spend doing that, we’re not trying to solve (problems) going forward. So I think we’re really starting to put our effort into what we can do to have an early warning if we see something that’s inappropriate.”

I’m sure you will get there. It is no wonder NC State folk are ticked at how hands-off the state is on this mess, compared to what they did to NC State back in 1989.


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