You know there are times when you wake up, see something on the news or look outside and see its raining so you simply decide to stay in bed.
Yeah, it was like that this morning.
In the latest twist in the UNC AFAM academic scandal, the News & Observer is reporting this morning that a "test" transcript which is available on UNC's website for prospective students to view may actually belong to former Tar Heel football and basketball player Julius Peppers. According to Dan Kane, the transcript which the N&O has posted here is alleged(by Pack Pride no less) to be similar to a partial transcript found online for Julius Peppers. The links to these documents on UNC's website have both been blocked now. Needless to say, the Peppers transcript as well as the test one do not paint a pretty picture of academics and athletics at UNC, assuming it is valid.
Is it real?
At this stage, both transcripts appear to be real though it raises some questions. First of all, given how fervently UNC has acted when it comes to the release of records using FERPA as a shield it is interesting a mistake of this magnitude would occur. UNC has spent countless time and dollars going to war in the courts to preserve FERPA in the face of multiple media inquiries into the NCAA investigation of UNC football. It is either cruel poetic justice or outright irony(depending on your allegiance) that UNC would be undone to some extent by a failure to adhere to FERPA. In that respect, this instance of incompetence is just plain odd. Secondly, this piece of evidence does fall under the "isn't that convenient" heading. Amid an investigation by the media into suspect AFAM classes, it just so happens something so damning and damaging bubbles to the surface which connects UNC football and basketball to the AFAM department and extends to timetable back a full decade?
Again, I am not making a determination of authenticity here. Until someone says otherwise, we can probably accept somewhat at face value it is likely what people say. In fact, with the way this is being reported, whatever UNC comes out and says at this point will make little difference. This story has already gone viral as "UNC posted Julius Peppers transcript" so that is what will be believed regardless of what other truths or spin might arise. The point here is for this to be Peppers transcript it would be a perfect storm of malfeasance by UNC and convenience for the media probe which is enough to give me a little pause. That being said, it's not like these were hard copies produced out of the blue. These did appear on UNC's website which would mean they were posted by someone with the requisite access to do so. In that case it is either a major screw-up or an act of internal sabotage in an effort to serve the agenda of people like Jay Smith who want the whole truth revealed. Since I am not a huge believer in conspiracies, it is likely its a screw-up and a gift to the media.
What is the impact?
If this ends up really being Peppers' transcript the first problem is actually not the NCAA but FERPA although that sounds worse than it actually is. If this is a FERPA violation, UNC will need to simply address the cause of the violation or risk losing federal aid. No lawsuits or fines are involved. As for the NCAA angle, there may not be much there either. Although the partial transcript indicated numerous poor grades and possible eligibility issues for Peppers in both football and basketball, the NCAA statute of limitations might preclude any action on this issue.
Allegations included in a notice of allegations shall be limited to possible violations occurring not earlier than four years before the date the notice of inquiry is provided to the institution or the date the institution notifies (or, if earlier, should have notified) the enforcement staff of its inquiries into the matter. However, the following shall not be subject to the four-year limitation: (Revised: 10/12/94, 4/24/03, 10/27/11)
(a) Allegations involving violations affecting the eligibility of a current student-athlete;
(b) Allegations in a case in which information is developed to indicate a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution or individual involved, which began before but continued into the four-year period; and
(c) Allegations that indicate a blatant disregard for the Association's fundamental recruiting, extra-benefit, academic or ethical-conduct regulations or that involve an effort to conceal the occurrence of the violation. In such cases, the enforcement staff shall have a one-year period after the date information concerning the matter becomes available to the NCAA to investigate and submit to the institution a notice of allegations concerning the matter.
Basically is comes down to how you view (b) and (c) above. In the case of (b) there would have to be violations found in the past four years and those would have to be part of a pattern going back to 1998 when Peppers was at UNC. In other words, the NCAA would have to find current student-athletes were involved with academic fraud related to the AFAM classes and the pattern could be extended backwards in time beyond the four year scope. As it stands right now, the NCAA has been quiet on the AFAM suspect classes. The academic fraud violations found in the final report from March were related to improper assistance from a tutor and had nothing to do with the nature of the AFAM classes. In fact UNC informed the NCAA of the classes well before the final report was issues and the NCAA has, so far, chosen to let it ride as an internal institutional issue.
The third provision listed above is certainly a possible way in but only if the NCAA decided to pursue the AFAM matter as an NCAA rules violation. For that to happen there would need to be connections between the athletic department and AFAM. Proof of some sort of conspiracy to shunt players into a sham degree would need to be produced and thus far there is no evidence of that. In fact, the presence of regular students in these classes seems to indicate that while some of the AFAM classes were a joke, it was not done to benefit student-athletes alone. Kane, over the weekend, produced another piece based on information received from a former student at UNC who confirmed that some AFAM classes in 2005 were nothing more than writing a paper for a grade. According to the non-athlete student the class did not meet but he did produce a 20-page paper and received a grade for his work. Obviously this information pushes the timetable back beyond the 2007 scope UNC has investigated internally. However the student in question did not tell Kane anything that wasn't already known. There were n0-show, independent study classes which required a paper and said classes were populated by athletes and non-athletes alike. Also, the fact said student informant was not an athlete pokes holes in the notion of this being an NCAA case.
Regardless of whether this is an NCAA issue or not does not take away from the incredible damage this is doing to UNC's overall academic reputation. The flow of information leaking out a little at a time is like a death by a thousand cuts. It is reaching a point where UNC may have been better served to simply open all the books and let the chips fall where they may rather than this painfully slow torture. And while we here at THB do not think this has yet risen to the NCAA level, with each new revelation no matter how trivial, the probability increases that something of interest to the NCAA will come crawling out of the woodwork. UNC's efforts to confine the scandal and move on have been largely unsuccessful due to the media's continued interest in uncovering more and academics like Jay Smith pounding away at the athletic department.Ultimately UNC's best move might be to permit an independent probe and begin an earnest house cleaning in the administrative ranks to truly begin moving past this.
Otherwise there will be more mornings UNC fans might not want to get out of bed.