Can UNC Expect a Return Visit From the NCAA?

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

The latest Kane Klassic raises the hopes of ABCers everywhere that information from Deborah Crowder may bring the NCAA back to campus. But history and the NCAA's own rules make that likelihood remote.

As expected, Dan Kane of the News and Observer responded to Friday's beatdown by three independent reviewers of his golden goose Mary Willingham by not acknowledging it at all and moving on to the next shiny object in the room, Deborah Crowder. In typical Kane fashion, he crafts a 1700-word article with only about 200 words of new information, most of which in this case is biographical. The former AFAM administrative assistant who has been at the heart of the academic scandal refused to speak to UNC or its investigators for over three years. But after Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall declined to pursue charges against her in the fraud case against former AFAM department head Julius Nyang'oro, Crowder decided to speak with Kenneth Wainstein, who is heading up the latest UNC inquiry into the affair.

The hook in this Kane Klassic is, of course, is that Crowder's testimony could bring the NCAA back to Chapel Hill for another round of investigations and possible sanctions. The history of NCAA enforcement action, and its own rules, would likely make those chances slim.

The first issue in play is the NCAA statute of limitations, which is typically four years. From the January, 2014 NCAA Division I Manual:

19.5.11 Statute of Limitations. 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: (Adopted: 10/30/12 effective 8/1/13)
(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 bylaws 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.

Crowder left UNC in September 2009. Any potential violations she may have been involved in personally are likely outside the four-year window. Likewise for the banner-chasers, the window on the statute of limitations has probably closed for the 2009 national championship team.

Subsection (c) addresses a "blatant disregard" for NCAA bylaws or an effort to conceal violations. Although ABCers might argue otherwise, such a standard may be difficult to prove. Besides, if subsection (c) is invoked, the NCAA has one year after they become aware to submit a notice of allegations. Given that the Martin Report was released in December 2012, that time has come and gone for the NCAA.

What remains then is subsection (b), indicating a "pattern of willful violations" that began before but extended into the four-year period. Nyang'oro's fraud indictment is for a class in the summer of 2011, so that meets the timeline criteria. But ultimately the burden of proof would be on the NCAA to demonstrate the pattern of violations, and that's where the "is this an academic or athletic scandal" question comes back into play. Given that less than half of the questionable enrollments were athletes, that may cast enough doubt on the "willful violations" part. Or the NCAA may look at the nine separate inquiries and over 70 institutional changes made in the past three years, plus the unprecedented step of indicting Nyang'oro, and decide UNC has taken enough corrective action to avoid sanction.

Clearly Crowder's version of events is crucial to getting to the bottom of what actually happened in the Afro-American studies department over the years in question. I don't think anyone who truly cares about UNC athletics or academics wants any less. But what is the point of getting to the bottom of the entire mess? Is it to restore UNC's academic and athletic integrity and to ensure it never happens again? Or is it to dole out punishment for transgressions, real or perceived? Plus the fact remains that the NCAA has been loathe to get involved in the internal academic affairs of its member institutions, as indicated by the lack of NCAA action at Michigan and Auburn, where similar incidents occurred. On the other hand, you can never bank on what the NCAA will do based on past history, given that UNC became the first school to receive a bowl ban without being charged with lack of institutional control in the previous football unpleasantness. Still, the specter of further NCAA action drives web hits and keeps interest in the story going, especially as the ground under Mary Willingham becomes even less secure every day.

To that end, you have to give Kane credit for backing his prize horse. After UNC released the independent review that discredited Willingham's conclusions as related to the literacy levels of student-athletes, Kane published his story about the ending of the contract between UNC and psychologist (and Willingham's co-researcher) Lyn Johnson. I'm sure it's just a coincidence that Kane dropped a story about a key player no one had ever heard of but was mentioned prominently in Willingham's initial response to the review (which was later dutifully parroted by Sara Ganim of CNN and Paul Barrett of Business Week). Then after Willingham's "official" rebuttal to the independent review made little mention of her literacy research but instead focused on the "paper" classes, Kane has this Crowder article teed up and ready to go. Being a member of the media means never having to say you're sorry and moving on to the next big thing, which Kane has clearly done here.

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