Thursday afternoon, UNC officials confirmed that the University has received a new statement from the NCAA concerning the ongoing investigation into the Athletic Department. The University indicated that they are reviewing the NCAA's statement and will release it to the public shortly. For now, the question is whether or not the NCAA has amended its position in any way since issuing its third (yep, THIRD) Notice of Allegations (NOA) to UNC last December.
What is this Statement Regarding?
The NCAA's latest statement comes two months after UNC's official response to the NOA. The 102 page response was more defiant than conciliatory and made one thing absolutely clear: UNC will fight the NCAA tooth and nail and the possibility of compromise or self-imposed restriction is unlikely at best.
The most recent NOA issued by the NCAA alleged that five different violations were committed by the UNC Athletic Department, the most notable of which are "Lack of Institutional Control" and "Failing to Monitor Academic Support Groups for Athletes." This latest NOA also directly referenced the men's basketball and men's football teams in writing, which was not the case in the previous NOA. Basketball and football are back in the NCAA's crosshairs.
UNC's primary argument in its May response is that the NCAA has no authority to punish its member schools for academic issues, in this case the bogus AFAM courses. The key sentence was "Because the issue of the Courses is an academic issue, the University denies that there were NCAA violations." Very simple argument: The classes were an academic problem and not limited to student-athletes, therefore it's not an NCAA issue.
This latest NCAA statement will reveal how the Committee on Infractions takes this attack by UNC on its jurisdiction and may give some idea of how they will act when the official panel is held.
Will the NCAA Respond to UNC's Arguments?
The UNC response raised some new points about the NCAA's previous responses to academic scandals. Reference was made to Auburn University's "Directed Reading" classes that were the case of much scrutiny in the early 2000s, as well as Michigan's academic scandal in 2008. In both cases, they involved student-athletes, but the NCAA chose not to act. UNC makes the case that the current academic scandal falls under a similar category and the precedent is that the NCAA should leave the issue to the University and its accreditation agency.
Another interesting take, one that could be quite the zinger if UNC opts to unleash it during the hearings, comes from the NCAA itself. In 2015, former Tar Heels athletes brought a suit against the NCAA, claiming that the governing body failed to make sure they received a proper education in school. In response, the NCAA lawyers stated that the NCAA has "no legal responsibility to ensure the academic integrity of the courses offered to student athletes at its member institutions." Humph.
It's unlikely the NCAA's new statement will respond to these points. After all, they are not the ones on trial. They hold the power and don't have much need to defend themselves or their past statements or actions at this stage in the process.
However, these arguments become extremely important in the event that they hand down harsh punishments and UNC decides to take them to court. The NCAA's inconsistency and overreach would have a hard time holding up in a court of law. As current UNC fan favorite (kidding, sorta) Jay Bilas stated last month, "I think UNC would win."
Will Other School Scandals Affect the NCAA's Attitude?
The last few months have been busy for NCAA Enforcement. Earlier this summer, the NCAA brought the hammer down on the University of Louisville's basketball program, in light of the revelations that Director of Basketball Operations Andre McGee had arranged for dancing and sex acts for recruits. The school will likely be forced to forfeit 108 regular reason wins, 15 tournament wins, and the 2013 National Championship. Rick Pitino will be suspended for five games.
Just this past week, the ongoing pay-for-play scandal at Ole Miss took on an even more twisted narrative when Head Football Coach Hugh Freeze was revealed to have been calling an escort service. Other issues facing the school's football program include allegations against 21 staff members, cash payments, merchandise gifts, and other improper benefits. Expect the NCAA to deal with Ole Miss harshly.
Even take into consideration the Syracuse academic scandal two years ago, where improper academic assistance was rendered to basketball players. This led to the suspension of Jim Boeheim and over 100 vacated wins. Could this also have an effect on the NCAA's attitude towards UNC?
The answer is it shouldn't, but you never know. The Louisville, Ole Miss, and Syracuse scandals all clearly fell under the jurisdiction of the NCAA. These scandals were directly linked to the basketball and football programs, were solely for the benefit of student-athletes, and featured direct allegations against employees of the universities respective Athletic Departments. None of these are the case with UNC. But the jurisdiction of the NCAA is so vague and unpredictable that there's no telling how the NCAA will choose to regard this particular case.
Did the NCAA Alter Its Position?
The speed with which the NCAA released its statement (less than two months after UNC issued its response) makes it very unlikely the Committee made any changes to its allegations or positions. In the past, it has taken much longer for the NCAA to make statements in response to school statements or actions. The process is torturously slow. Knowing the NCAA, two months seems about how long it would take them to put their heads together and agree that they don't want to change anything.
It also can't be ignored that the NCAA is under a lot of pressure from other schools and from the media to hammer UNC, or at least force them to acknowledge wrongdoing. Failure to act in previous cases, mixed with the growing disdain for the NCAA in all quarters places a lot of pressure on the NCAA to, as fellow embattled overlord Roger Goodall would say, "Get it right." Any sign of letting UNC off the hook would result in a uproar from journalists and member schools.
The likelihood is that the NCAA will stick with the five violations it has alleged and that the panel hearings will begin soon. The swiftness of the NCAA's response may mean that soon will come even sooner.