The University of North Carolina released its 55-page notice of allegations from the NCAA on Thursday which detailed five offenses characterized as "Level 1", or the most serious of NCAA infractions. The NCAA described the 18-year history of aberrant and irregular classes in the African and Afro-American Studies Department at UNC as an impermissible benefit for student athletes, as well as charging that former faculty chair and women's basketball academic adviser Jan Boxill provided improper assistance and special arrangements to women's basketball players. And as expected, the NCAA levied its most serious charge, lack of institutional control, for UNC's failure to monitor Boxill and failure to address the paper class scheme in the AFAM department. In addition, the school faces two violations for the refusal of former AFAM department chair Julius Nyang'oro and former department assistant Debby Crowder, the architect of the scheme, to cooperate with the NCAA's investigation. Tar Heel Illustrated has an excellent summary of the allegations here; you can read the complete NOA and its supporting documents here.
With that in mind, here are four things we learned from the notice of allegations:
1. The NCAA avoided the third rail of academic fraud
Bubba Cunningham said after the release of the NOA that there really wasn't anything surprising in there, and he is correct. The payoff of the NOA was going to be how the NCAA viewed the scandal, and they chose to go the impermissible benefits route. Frankly, that was really the only card they had to play.
As has been documented before, despite the breadth and length of the aberrant classes, there would have been a difficult time proving outright academic fraud. Whether or not the papers turned in to Crowder for paper classes were graded with diligence or care, they were required to turn in something. Plus there are a number of references in both the Wainstein Report and the NCAA documents that Crowder required a paper before she would give credit, and also that she identified and required additional work from some students found to have cut and pasted papers.
In addition, while grades for athletes were inflated, they were inflated for all students and data showed that non-students actually received slightly higher grades than athletes in the paper classes. The fact that athletes had to turn in papers and received grades on average less than non-students made a flimsy case for straight-up fraud.
So the NCAA chose the impermissible benefits route, saying that athletic academic advisers leveraged their positions to get athletes into these classes, often ahead of other students, and that athletes got special considerations as it related to specific grades more so than the rest of the students enrolled in the classes. While this may technically be true, calling the "athlete hookup" an impermissible benefit is in the "crashing on someone's couch" realm of benefits. I would imagine all over the country athletes and other groups have first crack at registrations and other benefits not generally available to the student body.
In addition the NOA cited 10 players who took more than the allowable number of classes under independent study guidelines because the paper classes were not counted as independent study classes. This looks like it might actually be an academic issue, but the NCAA labels it a violation of UNC's internal policy and therefore an impermissible benefit, again avoiding any ruling on potential academic misconduct.
By taking this route, the NCAA chickened out on making a determination on the true origins of the paper classes and answering the chicken or egg question. In doing so, the NCAA did not accuse UNC of maintaining an "eligibility scheme" or engaging in "academic fraud", as the headlines have blared over the past year. The question is then why? Did they really consider this outside their purview? Were they not in a position to judge the quality of instruction? Did they buy the argument that the paper classes were primarily an academic scandal so they found something else they could try to make stick?
In the end it just seems odd that 18 years of aberrant classes were rolled into one charge, the main thrust of which was "athletes got a better hookup in sham classes than non-athletes did for the same sham classes." That's kind of weak and I would wager both the pro-UNC and anti-UNC crowd expected more. In all, the NCAA made no charges of any kind regarding academic fraud or eligibility due to academics, sticking solely to charges of impermissible benefits.
2. Women's basketball is toast
Of all the sports involved in the scandal, the only one to have specific charges leveled against it is women's basketball. Jan Boxill is alleged to have provided improper assistance and special arrangements for women's basketball players. If precedent is any indication, these are the kinds of allegations that lead to vacated wins and postseason bans. It may also be just a coincidence, or there may be some fire to the smoke of the recent high-profile transfers of Diamond DeShields and Jessica Washington and the departure of assistant coach (and former player) Ivory Latta.
Lost among all the calls for Roy Williams' head has been the role of Boxill as revealed in the Wainstein Report and called out in the NOA. Boxill was more than just an adviser, she was a faculty member and in fact the elected chair of the faculty. I mentioned recently on Twitter that the optics of this scandal have lacked a grim-faced press conference where it was announced someone had lost their job behind this, as Holden Thorp, Dick Baddour, Crowder, and Nyang'oro all slipped out the side door. But Boxill was recommended to be fired, and resigned rather than contest it. She was a very big fish in all of this but was generally ignored in favor of the biggest fish of all.
Reading between the lines can be dangerous in a situation like this but this sure sets up like women's basketball being the sacrificial lamb as far as specific penalties go. Plus, given the fact that Sylvia Hatchell is 63 years old and has been at UNC for almost 28 years, she may be the most likely to find her way to the door behind all this. On the other hand...
3. Coaches come out clean
Some have interpreted the lack of any mention of Roy Williams as a vindication of his role in the whole affair, but then again the NOA makes no mention of coaches other than having participated in interviews. This includes Williams, Hatchell, and women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance, who is actually in the emails talking about the hookup for a potential national team soccer player.
This is not a drop the mic moment for Williams, but it is a victory given that men's basketball is pretty much given a pass from a program standpoint, as is pretty much every program except for women's basketball, and even then Hatchell is not cited individually in the report.
4. Breaking new ground on LOIC
As expected, the NCAA leveled its most serious charge, lack of institutional control, at UNC. It is the biggest club in the bag and there is no way it was going to stay in the bag given the 18 years of aberrant AFAM classes. But there is something a little unique in this charge of LOIC versus most of the times it is used: the NCAA charged the academic side of UNC's house with failure to monitor Boxill and failure to regulate the AFAM mess. Charges of LOIC are usually directed at the athletic department for violations of NCAA bylaws. But clearly UNC's athletic department had no control over what two faculty members and a departmental employee did. Charging the academic side with LOIC is the right call but is kind of virgin territory for the NCAA and getting into a member institution's academic affairs is generally a place where the NCAA does not tread. Then again, they created a never-before-heard-of charge of "failure to monitor social media" charge against UNC in 2012 and then made UNC the first school to receive a bowl ban without LOIC so they are not afraid to blaze new ground with the university.
Now we wait for UNC's response to the notice of allegations, which is due by August 20th, followed by a date with the Committee on Infractions, who will ultimately make the sanctioning decision. As one chapter closes, now the parlor game moves to "what will the NCAA do to UNC?" But that answer is a good nine months or more away.