The University of North Carolina disputed NCAA accusations that it lacked institutional control over its athletic department and challenged whether college sports’ governing body has jurisdiction to impose penalties for violations resulting from the school’s academic fraud scandal.
UNC did not issue any further self-imposed penalties in Tuesday’s public response to five violations formally issued by the NCAA in April. It challenged the NCAA especially on the most severe of the five allegations, which states that the school lacked institutional control because of its failure to identify or investigate the courses in question. The Level I charges, the harshest the NCAA can levy, center on the school’s longstanding African and Afro-American Studies program, which for 18 years gave high grades for little work and had significant enrollment among UNC athletes.
The response, released Tuesday by the university, acknowledged problems with courses offered by the program, but contended that they are subject to review by UNC’s accrediting agency and not the NCAA. That agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, penalized the school with one year of probation that expired in June, according to the Associated Press.
“It’s an interesting argument. The NCAA does have authority to penalize institutions for violating NCAA legislations as it pertains to academics. Obviously, UNC was already punished in that way,” said Christian Denney, a sports attorney with Barlow, Garsek and Simon in Fort Worth, referring to a one-year postseason ban given to the football program after a separate NCAA investigation that concluded in 2012. North Carolina also argued in Tuesday’s release that the 2012 ruling is final and should preclude further NCAA sanctions on the matter.
“There have been a couple cases over the years where there has been some expansion of what we thought was necessarily within the NCAA purview, most notably Penn State,” Denney continued. UNC “does have an argument that [the NCAA] is essentially going over the line in doing what the accrediting agencies are charged with doing.”
Tuesday’s response represents the next phase in an NCAA investigation that began in 2014 and comes three months after the NCAA formally charged the school and three staff members. The matter now returns to the NCAA, which has 60 days to respond. UNC is set to appear before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions this fall, and the investigation is likely to drag on into early next year.
The classes were reportedly nearly half full of athletes from several sports including football and men’s basketball from 1993 to 2011. The NCAA initially declared both of those teams under investigation in May 2015, but neither program was mentioned in the most recent amended Notice of Allegations from the NCAA enforcement staff released April 25. Tuesday’s response also did not make mention of those programs.
While the football and basketball programs are unlikely to receive specific punishments, the school is still facing a long list of charges and potential sanctions. In addition to levying accusations of lack of institutional control, the NCAA has accused the school of failing to monitor violations within the Academic Support Program for Student Athletes between 2005 and 2011.
The investigation has focused on former philosophy instructor Jan Boxill, who is accused of providing illegal academic benefits to women’s basketball players from 2007 to 2010. Boxill, who served as an academic adviser for the team in addition to her duties as a professor and Director of the Parr Center for Ethics, has been accused of writing and adding content to essays for members of the women’s basketball team. While UNC has been accused of failing to police both the African and Afro-American Studies program and Boxill, UNC’s response argued that any misconduct related to the allegation is beyond the NCAA’s authority to regulate.
“The NCAA’s constitution and bylaws do not extend to matters related to academic structure, content, and processes on a member institution’s campus. This most basic limitation impacts any analysis of this case,” the report stated.
UNC admitted in its response that Boxill provided extra benefits in 15 of 18 alleged circumstances as outlined by the amended notice. Boxill and her attorney, Ronda Roden, issued a strong denial of the allegations this week. “It did not happen. Not one of the allegations against Jan Boxill is true,” Roden wrote in a statement published by the Raleigh News and Observer.
The investigation has also targeted Julius Nyang’oro, the former chair of the African and Afro-American Studies department, as well as Deborah Crowder, the department’s former student services manager. Nyang’oro and Crowder have been accused of violating the NCAA’s principles of ethical conduct for their refusal to cooperate with the investigation. UNC’s response states that it could not compel Nyang’oro or Crowder, who are no longer employed by the school, to speak with investigators.