Michael McAdoo Takes His Case to Court [UPDATED x2]

...and he hopes the NCAA doesn't get the Casey Anthony jury.

McAdoo, who was declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA, a penalty upheld on appeal, has filed suit against the NCAA and UNC to have his eligibility restored as well as recover monetary damages. A hearing is scheduled in Durham on July 15th.

See update at the end of the post

In a lengthy filing, McAdoo and his attorneys assert that the NCAA made its ineligibility ruling based on inaccurate information regarding his involvement with tutor Jennifer Wiley and has been inconsistent in its reporting regarding his receipt of improper benefits from Todd Stewart, who has been identified in UNC's notice of allegations as a runner.

His complaint against UNC is based on the fact that UNC did not amend its self-report to reflect his updated academic situation and that it acted improperly in holding him out of games before his academic situation was ruled on by the UNC Honor Court or the NCAA.

He further alleges that at no point was he told he could retain his own counsel nor was he encouraged to do so to protect his own interests. He also says that since retaining an attorney, the NCAA has not responded to any correspondence or communication from his legal representation. In addition, he claims that his inability to play college  football has impacted his ability to earn a living playing professional football.

The suit sheds some light on at least one portion of the UNC football investigation if, for nothing else, filling in some of the blanks in the heavily redacted version of events released thus far. Also, if true, the suit paints the NCAA as exceedingly arbitrary and capricious and illustrates the lengths to which UNC went to keep players involved in the NCAA investigation off the field.

According to the suit, McAdoo spent two nights in a suburban Washington, DC hotel and attended a party at a nightclub with a cover charge. Although McAdoo thought Marvin Austin had paid for the hotel room and admission into the club, the NCAA investigation revealed that Todd Stewart had paid $89 for the hotel room and the $10 cover charge for the club. He was later docked for one hour of free tutoring from Wiley, valued at $11, for a grand total of $110 in improper benefits (although he was identified in UNC's NOA as receiving only $54.50 in improper benefits). At the direction of UNC officials, McAdoo repaid the $110 to charity as is standard procedure in such cases.

As for his involvement with Wiley, the NOA lists three instances in which Wiley provided improper assistance with the works cited page and citations within a paper for a player we now know is McAdoo. The suit says that Wiley was assigned to McAdoo as his tutor and provided assistance on three occasions but that McAdoo had no idea what she was doing was improper. McAdoo also maintains that on the last occasion, in the summer of 2009, he had no idea she had graduated and that her help at all would be improper.

The filing says that all three instances were turned over to the UNC Honor Court for investigation. In the first instance, he was found not guilty by the Honor Court; in the second, the Student Attorney General decided there was not enough evidence to even bring it to the court, so it was dismissed. In the third instance, however, McAdoo was found guilty and was to be suspended from school for the Spring 2011 semester, with specific notation by the Honor Court that he could re-enroll in Summer 2011 and restore his football eligibility for the 2011 season.

McAdoo maintains that the permanent ineligibility ruling is based on two errors: first, that he knowingly committed academic fraud, and second, that he was cited for receiving help multiple times over multiple terms when he was found not guilty by the Honor Court on the first count and the second count was not even determined to have enough merit to bring to the Honor Court. In turn, permanent ineligibility based on a single case of academic misconduct is excessive, he argues.

The suit alleges that UNC filed a self-report with the NCAA based on the three papers in question and withheld McAdoo from competition before either the Honor Court or the NCAA had ruled on his eligibility. Again this demonstrates the lengths UNC was willing to go to keep any potential problems off the field and had to be a mitigating factor when the notice of allegations did not include a charge of lack of institutional control.

Further, the suit claims that UNC did not amend its self-report on McAdoo after the first two issues were cleared by the Honor Court, although it does note that UNC did notify the NCAA of these developments on more than one occasion. McAdoo therefore claims the NCAA acted in bad faith in using the multiple papers over multiple terms claim in both its ineligibility ruling on McAdoo as well as its NOA to UNC. The suit on a number of occasions uses the term the "NCAA knew or should have known" that McAdoo was cleared on the first two papers, a phrase that could not have been chosen by accident, given how frequently that phrase appears in the NCAA's report on the scandal at USC.

It is important to note here how the adjudication of McAdoo's case differs from that of Devon Ramsey, even though the circumstances appear to be similar. Under NCAA enforcement procedure, in order to proceed to an appeal, you must first concede that the violations alleged by the NCAA are correct. So when UNC took McAdoo's case to the appeals level, they were conceding that the allegations - meaning all three papers - were correct, although if the suit is accurate, that could be in doubt. Ramsey's attorney Bob Orr caught this stumbling block and refused to allow UNC to appeal Ramsey's case, instead forcing the NCAA to deal with the facts brought up by the investigation. One can only wonder how McAdoo's case would have turned out if this tack had been taken for him as it was for Ramsey.

So what does all this mean? Hard to say at this point. It does take a little wind out of the sails of allegation #1 of the NOA when two of the three instances of improper assistance resulting in academic fraud didn't even make it past the UNC honor court (It is important to note that any situation where a student-athlete turns in work not entirely his own is termed "academic fraud" by the NCAA, whether it is editing works cited pages or someone writing the entire paper altogether). It also shines some light on how some of the improper benefits from ALCs occurred, if McAdoo truly believed Austin was paying for the hotel room.

On the other hand, I think it reinforces the set of rules that the NCAA plays by (guilty until proven innocent, penalty for academic fraud is permanent ineligibility and then works backwards) and the inconsistent manner in which they are applied. I also think there will be a new manner in which schools and individual student-athletes deal with violations and infractions by retaining their own attorneys, as it seems litigation will be the new order of the day since that seems really the only way to get the NCAA to pay attention.

As for UNC specifically, it is clear that the University's interests and the players' interests are not always the same. Despite this ABCer-fueled idea that UNC was or is somehow getting off lightly with the NCAA, this suit shows just how far the school was willing to go to be proactive with the NCAA, in essence holding out players without proven cause. Then again, the byzantine NCAA rules dictate prudence in these situations, so who can really blame UNC?

It will be truly interesting to see how this case plays out as precedent may truly be set in how schools and players deal with the NCAA. If Judge Orlando Hudson issues an injunction against the NCAA, McAdoo could potentially rejoin the team for the opening of fall practice.

UPDATE: As part of the filing of the lawsuit, McAdoo's attorneys have provided a number of documents, including transcripts of the NCAA reinstatement committee hearing, emails between Wiley and McAdoo, internal UNC emails between Chancellor Holden Thorp and NCAA President Mark Emmert and between UNC counsel Amy Herman and NCAA enforcement staff, and the actual draft and finished paper in question for the Swahili class, including the list of sources McAdoo sent to Wiley that she formatted.

A couple of things immediately jump out: First, the entire academic incident took place during McAdoo's freshman year. He was assigned to work with Wiley and did so for the fall, spring, and first summer session of that year. Sometime between summer sessions, Wiley was let go from UNC's academic support program and McAdoo was assigned a new tutor. He did work with  the new tutor but eventually went back to Wiley for help with the Swahili paper. UNC argued that he was continuing an existing relationship with Wiley but the NCAA presented the fact that he sought out Wiley (after she apparently offered to keep helping after being let go by UNC) as knowingly participating in the improper benefits. The NCAA also maintained that McAdoo knew or should have known that the hotel room in suburban Washington was not being paid for by Marvin Austin, while UNC and McAdoo disagreed.

Second, UNC unsuccessfully argued that the permanent ineligibility was overly harsh given the nature of the offense. UNC provided case precedent from previous NCAA rulings but the NCAA chose to ignore that and follow other precedent and said it was comfortable that two years of ineligibility (in other words, the remainder of his career) was appropriate in this case, particularly given that the UNC Honor Court convicted McAdoo of improper help on the Swahili paper (a point even repeated in the e-mail exchange between Thorp and Emmert). The enforcement people never mentioned the two other instances in the appeal hearing although the NCAA did in the notice of allegations.

Again, McAdoo's (and UNC's) argument was never that violations did not occur; rather that the punishment did not fit the crimes. Armed with evidence that the NCAA disregarded its own precedents in previous academic misconduct cases and that the work on the Swahili paper and even the citations were his own and were merely reformatted by Wiley, a sympathetic judge (or especially a jury, since the action requests a jury trial) may look on McAdoo's case favorably. Then again, the NCAA has deep pockets and time on its side since they don't care if it takes 3-5 years to resolve these issues in court while the clock is ticking on McAdoo's career. Again, what happens in Judge Hudson's courtroom next week will certainly be intriguing.

UPDATE(THF): SI.com's Andy Staples has a in-depth piece up detailing McAdoo's lawsuit. In short, McAdoo does not have to win the trial but rather win the injunction hearing so he can go back to playing football. For that to happen the judge has to find that (1) McAdoo has a chance to win in a trial and (2) that McAdoo will be dealt "irreparable harm" if the injunction is not granted. In should be noted from the Staples piece that in the instance of a Oklahoma State baseball player suing the NCAA, the NCAA opted to settle for $750,000 rather than change a certain rule. If the NCAA would rather not open a certain can of worms here, they might agree to pay damages instead of be forced to admit they royally screwed McAdoo by ignoring UNC's honor court findings, their own precedent and general common sense.

One other note from Staples as it relates to the Ramsay case and this one.

When McAdoo was declared permanently ineligible the following month, the NCAA cited three incidents of academic fraud. When the NCAA held McAdoo's appeal hearing in December, Utah State professor Ken White, the chair of the NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement committee, said during his opening remarks that appeal procedures required all factual disputes to be resolved. If facts appeared to be in dispute, White said, the hearing would be postponed until the disputes were resolved. Yet when a UNC attorney brought up the honor court's decisions, no one from UNC or the NCAA suggested the hearing end because of the obvious factual dispute.

As Doc pointed out, in Ramsay's case Bob Orr stopped it from getting to this point so the "facts" would not be accepted. In McAdoo's case, despite UNC offering up new findings which obviously put the facts of the case in dispute everyone at the appeals hearing let it slide, I guess because they needed to get some Christmas shopping done. McAdoo, who had no counsel of his own, had no way of knowing the NCAA was ignoring its own procedures as they drove the last nail in his college career's coffin.

The problem is being the NCAA means never having to say your sorry or follow your own rules in arbitrarily meting out punishment to athletes who have no voice.

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