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UNC Out of the Woods with NCAA on Academic Issues?

Streeter Lecka

In the newest Sunday bombshell from Dan Kane at the News & Observer--wait, what did you say? This wasn't published on Sunday? It was Friday? Why would they publish this on Friday? That was the same day the three Triangle teams opened their basketball seasons and everyone was focused on what would happen to P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Anything that got published on Friday was likely buried under the hype of the basketball season starting. Well, I am sure all the national writers who reflexively retweet anything Kane writes put the good word out on this piece. They didn't? Why not? Oh that's right....narrative.

Anyway, Kane obtained some additional emails from UNC and this time they show an exchange between senior associate athletic director for compliance, Vince Ille and officials at the NCAA concerning the academic fraud issues and recent indictments into agent benefits.

In late September, Vince Ille, a UNC senior athletic official, asked the NCAA to confirm that it had no plans to further investigate the fraud, and that there would be no violations added to the case that it spun from improper financial benefits from agents to players and improper academic help from a tutor.

"It is my understanding that, based on the available information, no additional investigation regarding these issues is being contemplated by the NCAA enforcement staff, nor does the staff believe that any modification of the infractions case that was completed on March 12, 2012 is necessary," Ille wrote. "Can you please confirm or correct this assessment?"

Less than an hour later, Mike Zonder, the NCAA’s associate director for enforcement, responded: "You are correct in your assessment regarding the situation involving the AFAM department."

Zonder and NCAA President Mark Emmert did not respond to an interview request. A spokeswoman, Emily James Potter, said in a short statement that Zonder’s email was "correct."

Ille and other UNC officials declined to be interviewed.

If you read the Inside Carolina premium message boards, you know that Greg Barnes confirmed this information a few weeks ago. It also shouldn't come as any surprise. The agent indictments have all involved players already permanently banned by the NCAA. Finding out Greg Little, Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn took more money than the NCAA discovered initially doesn't change the math. These players were given the stiffest penalties possible and UNC vacated two seasons among other penalties. Additional investigation into this matter is largely unnecessary.

The academic issues where a different story. Ever since this popped onto the radar, there has been a clamoring from rival fans and national college writers alike for the NCAA to step in and investigate. The independent review conducted by former governor Jim Martin has been called a "whitewash" and the results disputed. Whether that was due to the review actually being flawed or because it didn't support the narrative by linking the fraud to athletics is open to interpretation. Whatever the case, the general feeling was UNC did something wrong and the NCAA needed to have a look at it.

The problem is the academic fraud case involved one professor offering a slate of aberrant classes which were opened to the student body at large, not just athletes. There was never hard evidence showing collusion between AFAM department head Julius Nyang'oro, AFAM administrative assistant Deborah Crowder and the the athletic department. Yes, there was plenty wrong in this situation but to what extent it was an issue the NCAA needed to investigate was never clearly proven. The NCAA hesitates to delve into a case which requires them to examine how an academic department was being run and curriculum being set without some pretty damning evidence it was ordered by someone in the athletic department.  And no, tutors emailing Nyang'oro asking if similar classes would be offered and having a rapport with him doesn't really count.

The question is will Kane continue to probe into this matter or does it effectively bring this sordid chapter in North Carolina's history to a close? I would think it does barring some additional information that both UNC and the NCAA don't know about. It is interesting to note that Kane included a sidebar highlighting the fact Ille had a previous working relationship with NCAA enforcement official Jackie Thurnes. Kane points out Ille once hired Thurnes when he worked at Illinois. I suppose this is one last "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" from Kane on this matter.

In terms of the much bigger picture of compliance at UNC, the pro-active approach taken by Ille here is a good sign. Instead of waiting around for the NCAA to do or not do something, Ille asked for and received an answer on the academic issues. He also didn't leave anything to chance on the agent indictments and received assurances on those issues as well. With the Hairston and McDonald cases still hanging out there, it will be worth watching to see if Ille can get similar positive results for UNC in dealing with the NCAA.