The NCAA’s revised notice of allegations against UNC

Andy Thomason of the Chronicle of Higher Education has the most comprehensive treatment so far of the likely implications of the NCAA’s revised notice of allegations, which were made public yesterday.

The original notice, which the NCAA handed down eleven months ago, included five high level violations, including a lack of institutional control. The newly amended notice maintains that charge. But it has made two profound changes: 1) the start date for the key infractions charged is now the Fall of 2005, not 2002, as the earlier notice included. 2) men’s basketball and football, which were specifically named as having been primary beneficiaries in the scheme about which the original notice focused on, are not named in the amended notice. The new notice only specifically cites women’s basketball and its long-time academic adviser, Jan Boxill, the former philosophy professor and chair of the faculty.

Given the lack of transparency in the process, we are likely never to know what prompted these two major changes. But they almost certainly leave the 2005 national championship banner in the clear. And more broadly, the amended notice would appear to foreclose any significant penalties against men’s basketball (or football, but that program had been sanctioned in the NCAA’s earlier investigation in 2011-12). Gerald Gurney, an expert on NCAA enforcement issues, especially those related to academic violations, tweeted today that it is impossible to guess the penalties that the Committee on Infractions might ultimately hand down. But given the way the NOA is written, it’s hard to see an outcome substantially different from what observers now assume will happen.

This leaves women’s basketball to take the fall for a fake classes scheme that, there is no doubt, emerged to benefit primarily football and then men’s basketball. That doesn’t mean that women’s basketball isn’t guilty of some of the allegations in the NOA. But what the NCAA appears to be preparing the ground for is precisely the kind of egregious selective enforcement of whatever academic standards it purports to uphold that drive its critics to distraction. One could argue that the NCAA’s pretensions in prioritizing academics are such a joke that we ought put no stock of any kind in whatever judgments they render. For example, the University of Michigan was home to rampant abuse of the mechanism of independent studies for the benefit of hundreds of athletes earlier in the century, alongside other academic/athletic transgressions. And the NCAA never even bothered to investigate that case. And critics, like Gurney and David Ridpath, have long argued that the NCAA has a tendency to come down harder on less high profile programs. That general approach was the inspiration for former UNLV legend Jerry Tarkanian’s most famous quote: “The NCAA was so mad at Kentucky they gave Cleveland State two more years of probation.”

But while we can dismiss the NCAA for the joke that it is, it still has authority, because its member institutions continue to conspire with it in a cartel that benefits the institutions, coaches, administrators and other business partners, all in the name of the supposed educational primacy of its mission and under the guise of “academic integrity.” And as long as it has authority, it should still be subject to scrutiny and criticism when it acts so patently contrary to common sense and decency. With the caveat that we won’t know what penalties UNC will ultimately receive, if the university successfully steered the NCAA process away from a focus on the two sports most central to the generation and perpetuation of the scandal, while making women’s basketball the primary target of its enforcement wrath, this will go down as one of the more disgraceful episodes in the NCAA’s recent history.