Dissecting the NCAA Infractions Report

As news of the NCAA's ruling on Carolina football continues to resonate, here is a more detailed look as to what is actually contained in the 38-page document.

The report includes a narrative as to the facts surrounding the case, a point-by-point recount of the violations listed in the notice of allegations, and the penalties assessed by the NCAA. There is also a timeline of the violations and subsequent investigation.

Most of the information contained in the infractions report was also listed in the notice of allegations, although there are a number of key differences and explanation and more detail that has emerged. The NCAA also anonymizes the names of relevant parties but context and information previously released by UNC makes it relatively easy to pinpoint who is who in the report.

I will go into more detail after the jump, but the executive summary of the report is this as it relates to UNC:

  • Jennifer Wiley provided improper academic help to three student athletes, including a famous one whose name you had not heard associated with the academic prong before.
  • UNC should have known what Marvin Austin was doing because he had blabbed it all over Facebook and at least two football staff members (in non-coaching roles) had an opportunity to review his social media accounts. The Committee on Infractions stopped short of saying UNC failed to monitor social media and declined to make it a blanket rule that all schools should monitor social media. This is a change from the original NOA, when UNC was charged with failure to monitor social media; the Committee now says UNC should have followed up on Austin's activities because it was apparent what he was doing.
  • The Committee, by their own admission, used circumstantial evidence to declare John Blake a runner for agent Gary Wichard, but only held UNC tangentially responsible for that issue.
  • The decision to impose a bowl ban was based on the fact that six players participated while ineligible, either from academic issues or agent benefits, in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons and UNC gained a "significant competitive advantage" by their participation. Also, the failure to monitor Wiley and Austin contributed to the decision as well.

There have always been three facets to the UNC investigation: Jennifer Wiley, improper benefits, and John Blake. The infractions report sheds some light on these facets while revealing some previously unreleased information.

Jennifer Wiley

The infractions report mentions that Wiley provided improper academic assistance to three student athletes. The first instance was to Hakeem Nicks in the spring of 2008, but this fact did not come to light until the investigation two years later, and since Nicks was gone, there was nothing that could be done by UNC at that point. The other two instances were with Devon Ramsey and the infamous Michael McAdoo situation. Since she provided them with improper help, they were technically ineligible while participating in the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons. It is interesting to note that the NCAA continues to hold UNC accountable for Ramsey even though they reversed their own ruling on his permanent ineligibility. Still, this part of the investigation was known, other than the fact she also provided impermissible help to Hakeem Nicks as well.

The part where the NCAA sticks it to Carolina about Wiley is in her provision of impermissible benefits. Again, it was already revealed that she had paid for parking tickets and an airline change fee for Greg Little, and that she had provided free tutoring services for 11 players which the NCAA defines as an improper benefit. But the NCAA says that, despite UNC's clear instruction to all tutors regarding permissible services and improper benefits, their dismissal of Wiley when it was deemed she was too close to players, and her official notification of what she could and could not do as a former tutor, the school still should have known what she was doing on the side after she had graduated and was no longer employed by UNC:

That the former tutor provided benefits to enrolled student-athletes is well documented. The committee further finds that the institution should have known of her providing the benefits, which means that, according to the bylaw, she was a booster at the time the benefits were provided.

Then the NCAA goes a step further, saying if UNC had looked into her activities when they fired her, they might have discovered the academic issues much earlier, since it was pretty evident when they started looking:

The "rumors" that circulated in the summer of 2009 that the former tutor was becoming "too friendly" with student-athletes resulted in her employment contract not being renewed, but the institution undertook no further investigation. Had even a cursory review of her institutional emails been performed, the administration would likely have learned of the existence of the academic fraud, recognized the need to do more than just terminate the employment of the former tutor, and addressed the problem by admonishing student-athletes not to have further contact with her. The evidence of the academic fraud was clearly set forth in the emails, as evidenced by its discovery once the emails were reviewed as part of the 2010 impermissible benefits investigation.

No defense for UNC here other than to say in hindsight, they probably should have looked more closely into what she was doing with players in being "too friendly".  Whether this was incompetence or naivete probably depends on what team you pull for.

Agents and Benefits

There is really no surprise in this section of the committee's report. There is a litany of the benefits provided to Marvin Austin, as well as an accounting of the benefits provided to Robert Quinn.  The NCAA acknowledges that UNC did a good job of education:

The student-athletes had been educated by the institution regarding extra benefits. They were aware that accepting items of value from sports agents and their associates was forbidden, though they may not have realized that some benefits received from former institutional football student-athletes also could be considered preferential treatment benefits.

Yeah, I can see how a reasonable person would not have known crashing on a couch was a "preferential treatment benefit". But the NCAA again takes UNC to task for failing to check up on players who were potential targets for agents:

This committee reiterates, as it has done in the past, that institutions must do more than just educate their student-athletes regarding agent and amateurism issues. Institutions must be particularly vigilant in monitoring those student-athletes who demonstrate potential as top professional prospects.

Once more, incompetence or naivete is in the eyes of the beholder.

John Blake

The infractions report contains almost nine pages building a case against John Blake that by the committee's own admission is circumstantial. The committee firmly establishes Blake's connections to agent Gary Wichard and Pro-Tect Sports Management (not that they needed to given the preponderance of evidence) and has testimony from a former Pro-Tect employee that suggests Blake was recruiting players to Pro-Tect long before he came to UNC, as well as an appearance by former Blake player and 80s football icon/NFL bust Brian Bosworth. The report also mentions numerous places where Blake lied to the committee, including knowing the whereabouts and activities of Marvin Austin when Austin went to California to work out at Wichard's facility with Pro-Tect client and former UNC player Kentwan Balmer.

Now I am no fan of Blake, and he clearly lied to the committee about a number of issues and delayed and obfuscated  at every possible turn, but the committee makes a specious jump when it attempts to connect a number of the infamous wire transfers from Wichard to the recruitment of Balmer:

However, the committee noted that payments to the former assistant coach from sports agent 1 occurred on October 25, 2007 - $2,500 and December 4, 2007 - $3,000. The dates are significant in that they generally correspond with the time former student-athlete B's senior season of football was winding down and he would have been looking to retain the services of an agent. As stated above, former student-athlete B picked sports agent 1 to represent him, the first student-athlete from the institution to ever do so. Though the evidence is circumstantial, the committee finds that the payments on October 25 and December 4 were made in furtherance of the relationship in which the former assistant coach was compensated for supplying information to sports agent 1 and influencing student-athletes toward him and his sports agency. (emphasis added)

On April 1, 2008, sports agent 1 wired $5,000 to the former assistant coach. The significance of the timing is that the payment occurred immediately prior to the NFL draft. The committee finds that it too was related to the former assistant coach assisting sports agent 1 in becoming the representative of former student-athlete B.

The committee "finds"? Based on what, other than timing? It is interesting what the NCAA apparently didn't find out about Blake until investigating this matter:

The sports agency employee had personal knowledge of the former assistant coach recruiting a client for the sports agency in 2002, the first client sports agent 1 ever signed from the institution whose staff the former assistant coach joined upon leaving sports agency A. Similarly, within a year after the former assistant coach joined the coaching staff of a second institution in 2003, sports agent 1 signed a client from that institution. Later, while still at the second institution, the former assistant coach personally introduced the sports agency employee to two potential clients from that institution, provided contact information and "helped to support" the sports agency employee in his bid to land the two student-athletes as clients. The sports agency employee was able to sign both student-athletes for sports agency A. (emphasis added)

ABCers and national pundits were breathlessly screaming about how UNC could possibly have an agent's runner on staff. If this report is to be believed, apparently Nebraska and Mississippi State did too when Blake worked for them. At issue, however, is the fact that UNC vetted Blake with the NCAA when he was hired, so the fact that he was doing these things for years before coming to UNC does not reflect well on the NCAA.

The other issue is whether or not Blake's monetary connections to Wichard were in compensation for player recruitment. If not, then he is technically not a runner. Again, I am no fan of Blake but the NCAA has not really made a locked-tight case against him here. This could be why Blake only got a three-year show-cause penalty. Given the depth of his offenses and his constant lying and delaying of the committee, I thought for sure he would have had a five-year show-cause.

Failure to Monitor

In spite of the nine major violations, three of which were lying or failure to cooperate on the parts of Jennifer Wiley, John Blake, and Marvin Austin, the only charge in the notice of allegations leveled directly at UNC as an institution was the failure to monitor as it related to Austin and Chris Hawkins, who the NCAA determined was an agent-like creature after the investigation had begun. There is not anything substantially new here other than the notice of allegations attempted to imply that schools were responsible for monitoring social media. The committee backed off of that requirement, saying:

The enforcement staff also alleged a failure to monitor because the institution did not "consistently" monitor the social networking activity of its student-athletes. The social networking site of student-athlete 5 contained information that, if observed, would have alerted the institution to some of the violations set forth above in Finding B-4.

The committee declines to impose a blanket duty on institutions to monitor social networking sites. Consistent with the duty to monitor other information outside the campus setting (beyond on-campus activities such as countable athletically related activities, financial aid, satisfactory progress, etc.), such sites should be part of the monitoring effort if the institution becomes aware of an issue that might be resolved in some part by reviewing information on a site.

Instead, they simply say that UNC had enough knowledge of what Austin was doing that they should have investigated, and that the investigation should have led them to Austin's social networking sites:

Similarly, in this case the committee found a failure to monitor because the institution was informed that student-athlete 5 was either planning to travel out-of-town or had made trips out-of-town. The institution failed to act on that information, even though a cursory review would have shown that the travel included trips to California and Miami, locales which might have attracted the attention of the compliance department. While the institution does not have an inherent duty to monitor personal travel by student-athletes, once it became aware of the circumstances of student-athlete 5's travel it had a duty to investigate how the trips were paid for.

Apparently at least two members of UNC's non-coaching football staff were alerted to issues with Austin's Twitter account, although the initial report was for profanity.

The director of football student-athlete development received information from a staff member, whose identity he could not remember, about student-athlete 5's Twitter page containing excessive cursing. The director of football student-athlete development called student-athlete 5 into his office and told him to take down the excessive cursing comments on his Twitter page. Student-athlete 5 told the director of football student athlete development that he removed the comments, but the director did not check the student athlete's account. The associate athletics director for football administration also reported that he received information in May that the Twitter page contained excessive profane language but did not view the Twitter page.

In other words, someone on staff told director of football student-athlete development Andre Williams that Austin had profanity on his Twitter page and Williams met with Austin and told him to clean it up, which he told Williams he did. Williams apparently never bothered to look at Austin's tweets. Associate athletic director Corey Holliday was also aware of issues with Austin's tweets but did not check them either. The NCAA alleges that if either of these administrators had bothered to actually look at the account (as I did and thousands of ABCer message board monkeys later did), they would have had a glimpse of what Austin was up to.  While it was not considered incumbent upon UNC to monitor social media, I can tell you that even a middle school principal would have looked at Twitter to see what was being said. UNC clearly did not do that here.

Nevertheless, in a passage sure to break the hearts of ABCers, the NCAA said the following about UNC and its handling of the case:

The institution had educated its tutors regarding academic improprieties and its coaches regarding outside athletically related income. It self-discovered the academic fraud and took decisive action when the former assistant coach's violations came to light. It cooperated fully, is not a repeat violator and, although there is a finding of failure to monitor, the institution exhibited appropriate control over its athletics program.

Thus the reasoning for avoidance of the lack of institutional control charge.

Penalties

The national pundits were saying UNC would receive penalties in the range of the Ohio State sanctions, and they were absolutely correct.  Many of the penalties are perfunctory in nature and are standard fare in any NCAA infractions report, like the public reprimand and censure and the other probationary requirements.

UNC had offered self-imposed sanctions of 2 years probation, a reduction of three scholarships for three years, vacating the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and a $50,000 fine. They clearly knew the NCAA would press for more and the NCAA obliged with three years probation, a reduction of five scholarships for three years, and the post-season ban to go with the accepted penalties of the vacation of wins and the fine.

The scholarship restrictions are stiff but the NCAA is allowing UNC some flexibility in how they are implemented. They are not reducing UNC's "initial" grants-in-aid, which would limit the number of recruits the school could bring in each year. They are simply reducing to 80 the total scholarships awarded. There are any number of ways this can be mitigated, such as by walk-ons not getting scholarships for their senior years. This is a significant sanction but not wholly unmanageable.

The vacation of the 2008 and 2009 seasons is pretty much a hollow consequence except in one area: the NCAA requires the individual records of ineligible student-athletes to wiped out. As Brian pointed out to me last night, since it has been determined that Hakeem Nicks played while ineligible in 2008, his last year in essence doesn't count and while Dwight Jones eclipsed some of his school records, the remaining ones (or at least those from 2008) will be wiped out.

The postseason ban is certainly the ugliest of the penalties, and one I frankly did not expect given UNC's level of cooperation and lack of infractions history. In fact, UNC becomes only the second school to receive a bowl ban without also receiving a charge of lack of institutional control. Then again, the first was Ohio State earlier this year, so maybe that threshold is changing, although OSU had repeat violator status.

The logic that the committee used for implementing a postseason ban was a little shaky:

In total, the six student-athletes participated in 71 football contests among them during the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons while ineligible for intercollegiate competition. Due to the ineligible participation of the six football student-athletes, four of whom made substantial contributions to the football team's success, the institution received a significant competitive advantage. Further, as set forth in Findings B-1 and B-5, this case included a failure to monitor by the institution and the commission of  academic fraud by an institutional employee.

So, the committee decided that UNC deserved a bowl ban because of the "significant competitive advantage" gained by playing ineligible players? If consecutive 8-5 seasons constitutes "significant competitive advantage", then the bar is set pretty low for that. Does that mean if the players involved had been scrubs, there would have been no bowl ban? (I know, if the players involved had been scrubs there would have no agent benefits, but that's the logic the committee seems to be using) Plus, the failure to monitor and academic fraud almost seem to be afterthoughts. I could have lived with the bowl ban so much more if they had simply said what UNC did was really bad and deserved to be punished harshly.

There has been some internet discussion that UNC should have not accepted the bowl bid following the 2011 season and maybe the committee would have accepted that in lieu of this ban. I don't think that would have factored into their thinking at all. They so much as admit in the report that UNC tanked the 2010 season but the penalties still are what they are.

The other interesting thing is the three year show-cause on Blake. I thought for sure given the litany of the case they make against him that a five year ban was a certainty. I think it is admission of the weakness of the NCAA's case they didn't push for five years.

Moving Forward

UNC has since announced they will not appeal the NCAA sanctions, as history shows they have little chance of winning an appeal and the implementation of the penalties is suspended while the appeal is in process. This is probably the right decision; after two and a half years, there is no need to further delay the inevitable.

Blake's jerking around of the committee may have actually worked in UNC's favor as it significantly delayed the release of the report until after signing day. Larry Fedora can redshirt the entire incoming class if he likes and the bowl ban will have no effect on them. Likewise, Bubba Cunningham has said UNC's seniors will be allowed to transfer without penalty. It will be interesting to see how many leave because of this and how many would have left anyway because of the coaching change.

At long last, the whole sordid mess is over and UNC and Fedora can work on truly moving on. Again it might be a blessing in disguise for the bowl ban to be this year as it is a transition year anyway. There will be no pressure on the team to become bowl-eligible and Fedora can install his system how he wants.

As is usually the case with partisan issues like this one, few will be satisfied with the results of the unpleasantness. Some will feel the sanctions are too harsh while others will feel they are not nearly stringent enough. Regardless, the book is closed on this chapter and all the key people involved are long gone. A new day of Carolina football is here in more ways than one.

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