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The NCAA proves to be weak and gutless in their handling of the UNC case

A live look at Ol’ Roy.


A live look at Ol’ Roy.

When the NCAA announced last week (which then became “this week”) that they would release findings on its multi-year, multi-layered investigation into North Carolina athletics, I’ll be honest: I kind of assumed that UNC would get off pretty easy.

I didn’t think that they would get off easy necessarily because they’re North Carolina, one of college basketball’s golden goose programs, but instead, because of the timing of it all. The Tar Heels are the defending national champions in basketball, and the idea that any major punishment — specifically a postseason ban — could come just days before they opened their season seemed impossible. For some historical perspective, even UNLV was allowed to defend their national title in 1991, despite NCAA violations committed that off-season (for those who care, they served the NCAA ban a year later).

But while I thought the sanctions would be minimal (scholarship reductions etc.) even I couldn’t have imagined what came down from the NCAA on Friday: Absolutely nothing. After a four-year investigation into a 20-year academic fraud case, which covered virtually the entire university’s athletic department (not just their basketball team) the NCAA did nothing. No tournament or bowl bans. No scholarship reductions. No fines. No coach suspensions, nothing. To say this is a “slap on the wrist” is insulting to slaps on the wrist. It’s the equivalent of a kid coming home with all F’s on their report card, and his or her parents saying “Meh, do better next time.”

We’ll get into how absurd this “punishment” is momentarily, but before we do, let’s explain what happened in the first place — which of course will make the lack of punishment more ridiculous anyway. For those who haven’t been paying attention to this case, here’s what you need to know:

From 1993-2011, the University of North Carolina basically ran a bogus African-American studies program where students essentially had to do nothing to earn passing grades. They didn’t have to do homework or outside assignments, heck they didn’t even have to show up to class. In total, over 3,100 students passed through the program during that 18-year stretch, including quite a few athletes (including dozens of football and basketball players). Many students enrolled were non-athletes as well.

And in essence, that last part was the NCAA’s “get out of jail free” card. Basically, what the NCAA argued on Friday is that because there were non-athletes in those classes, it was a university academic issue, not an NCAA one. Because of the fact that all students had access to these classes, athletes weren’t getting any “extra benefits” that the normal student couldn’t get. And therefore the NCAA had no jurisdiction to punish the athletic department.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Much like a boyfriend coming home from a bachelor party in Vegas, the NCAA is using the “well, if everyone is cheating, was it really cheating at all?” card. And somehow North Carolina got away with it! Man, I wish explaining a way a trip to Vegas was that easy.

Ultimately, this is a bad look for the NCAA for so many reasons, but the most important one is this: It continues to perpetuate the stereotype that they kind of just make punishment up as they go along. That they spin a wheel or throw darts at a dartboard to make their final decisions before sanctions are handed out.

You know how I know that? Because never before has the NCAA used the “this is out our jurisdiction” defense before, let alone in a case this high-profile. To give you an example, remember the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky case a few years ago? Now admittedly, I think we can all agree that Sandusky is a deplorable human being who deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars (same with those who enabled him), but wasn’t that case WAYYYYYY out of the NCAA’s jurisdiction? It was a criminal case that went to the highest courts in Pennsylvania, and not a single, actual NCAA violation was committed (even if countless moral or ethical ones were). Yet Penn State was still hit with a four-year bowl ban (later reduced to two). Why was the NCAA cool with stepping out of their jurisdiction there, but not with North Carolina in this case?

By the way, I’ve got another one for you: Remember when SMU got banned from the NCAA Tournament a few years ago? That one flew under the radar because it’s SMU, a small school in Texas and because, well, SMU has a history with the NCAA.

But to give you details on why SMU was banned from the 2016 NCAA Tournament, here’s what you need to know: They had one player get caught cheating in one class thanks to the help of one tutor. It’s worth mentioning that the tutor was immediately fired, and that the basketball player (a kid named Keith Frazier) left before the NCAA handed down its punishment. And you know what? SMU still got banned from the NCAA Tournament.

So just to be clear: One player, cheating in one class is a one-year NCAA Tournament ban. But the ENTIRE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA CHEATING???? Nope, nothing the NCAA can do here.


And really, I think it’s fair asking a few questions about the NCAA here. Mainly, like, what is their purpose at this point? We’ve seen in the last month that to catch cheaters the FBI has to come in, and now the NCAA isn’t going to punish academic fraud either? If the NCAA is really about regulating the crossroads between academics and athletics, but isn’t catching cheaters and isn’t busting schools for academic fraud, then what exactly are they around for? To catch a kid getting too many free meals at the dining hall or too many free rides home from an assistant coach?

Furthermore, this ruling opens up so many other cans of worms. What is to keep any other school from starting up bogus academic programs? As the NCAA explained Friday, just as long as other students are enrolled alongside athletes, it’s not cheating, right? Also, why are we to believe the NCAA when they say they enforce everyone equally? I’ve always defended the NCAA on that, considering that USC and Ohio State football as well as Syracuse and Louisville basketball have been put on probation in recent years. But after today’s case it really does feel like if you’ve got the right brand name (and right legal team) you can get away with pretty much anything.

And you know what the saddest part is? I don’t think the average even wanted the NCAA to crush North Carolina. The football team already took a bowl ban a few years ago, and the current players on the Tar Heels roster did nothing wrong and weren’t enrolled in any of those classes. Therefore, none of us were looking for the NCAA to bring the hammer. None of wanted the program to be torn down, or the Dean Dome demolished. We just wanted some kind of justice, to know that no program is above getting punished by the NCAA.

But instead of justice, we got nothing. No postseason ban, no scholarship reductions, not even the conversation of removing banners that were hung while rampant cheating was going on.

Ultimately Friday was a sad day for college sports and all of us who love them.

Well, unless you’re a North Carolina fan.

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_TorresFacebook or e-mail at [email protected]. He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”


Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

29 Comments for The NCAA proves to be weak and gutless in their handling of the UNC case

  1. timewilltell
    2:10 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    NCAA is about $$$. Too much $$$ being made by university athletic programs. They are afraid to ruffle those feathers– Green Ones!!

  2. IAmTheDanger
    2:10 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    Excellent job Aaron!!

  3. Rod Crandler
    2:13 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    If I was SMU I would by filing a suit for lost revenue ASAP!

  4. Memphis UK Cat
    2:19 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    As I blasted this article out to all my Memphis fans, they should sue the NCAA for what they did with one player who was cleared for an SAT test. The outrage by the Memphis fans is huge over this ruling. Your article is spot on and I hope the Memphis fans will direct their ire to the real culprit. The NCAA.

    • Realme
      2:35 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

      They should have fought that years ago. Not only should that sue, they should re-hang their banner and all the wins back into their records.

  5. secrick
    2:22 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    If a college wants to give passing grades for doing nothing i guess that’s alright. Seems like that would keep graduates from getting good jobs . How can the NCAA decide what grades should be given at any school. Yeah it’s really cheating but is it any of their business. I wanted N.C. to get hit hard on this but got to thinking about it and they may have done the right thing.

  6. runningunnin.454
    2:32 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    UNC received an A+, just like their “student athletes”. Pass.

  7. Realme
    2:34 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    Well said, AT.

  8. Bluebloodtoo
    2:37 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    Perfect time to release this with the FBI case gathering much of the focus nationally.

    • runningunnin.454
      2:47 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

      Absolutely, you would think the NCAA would be embarrassed. They investigated UL right up through this summer, and saw no red flag when they sign a 5* kid that they didn’t even recruit.
      Everybody across the nation understands UNC cheated.

  9. J-Dub421
    2:51 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    UNC kept players eligible with fake grades from fraudulent classes. Therefore, they played players who were academically ineligible. That is an NCAA violation. UNC cheated and the NCAA let them. End of story.

    • 4everUKblue
      3:27 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

      And I don’t think anyone is the least bit surprised. My father has said all along they wouldn’t do anything to UNC and he was right. The investigation has been going on so long my complete disgust with the NCAA has worn off.

  10. gokycats33
    3:07 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    Excellent article Aaron!

  11. IstandUPatGames
    3:17 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    I would be willing to kick in $100 to help pay for a full page ad in the Indianapolis Star with this article as the content if others would also kick in! I have no idea how to do crowd funding but surely someone on here does!

  12. meeksfor3
    3:17 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    What about Jim Harrick and his son at Geogia a few years ago. Didn’t they get in trouble because Harrick Jr gave 2 players an A on a test they didn’t take? Maybe he should have given everyone in the class an A and it would have been fine…no probably not because they aren’t UNCheat.

  13. Joe DBBK
    4:04 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    NCAA leaves door wide open to academic misconduct with handling of UNC case
    The only rule left is there are no rules apparently
    Dennis Dodd

  14. Rixter
    4:19 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    Aaron, I tried to read this article, but the frequent misspellings and grammar errors (and boat-load of missing words) make it pretty much unreadable

    • 502CodeRed
      4:46 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

      So you are versed enough to form a comment with punctuation but you can’t comprehend a story with grammatical errors? I’m guessing you are one of those Rain Man type retards.

    • natertatter
      5:46 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

      i understood what he wrote perfectly… maybe you are a simpleton ,i dont know…..maybe you are just not smart….dont blame aaron….

    • TrumpPence2020
      1:05 pm October 14, 2017 Permalink

      In the age of twitter, we dont need punctuation and stuff anymore #MAGA

  15. Aaron, no one should have been surprised. Move along. Nothing to see here. Teflon U. I know I’ve called them that numerous times, but it’s the most appropriate designation I can think of.

    The worst part of this for me is that this is one of the schools whose fans (many of them) act like their excrement doesn’t stink. ACC academic school. Member of the prestigious AAU. Yeah right. Get away with it if you can I guess. Have fun with your can’t be touched rivalry with the Dookies.

  16. JC3
    4:31 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    Aaron, What a great article. Well thought out. My question is if the NCAA does not want jurisdiction over most academic area’s and this power rest with the institution then who decides if a player is or is not academically eligible? Is this totally an institution decision if all students are eligible to take this class? If its a fake class but university sanctions it, does that make it ok? Another question is: If Academics and University control all functions as it relates to ALL students then how does the NCAA claim jurisdiction over entrance scores for athletics to be accepted into that university? Should not this be the purview of the institution? What about APR scores? Again, should this not be a university decision according to the recent ruling? Lots and lots of questions going forward. It may be time for another governing body of college athletics.

  17. wesmorgan1
    5:40 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    As I said in a comment in an earlier KSR article…

    UNC’s genius move was to set up their ‘athletic academic support’ operation OUTSIDE the control of the athletic department. That gave every coach and staff member plausible deniability and (as we now see) immunized them from NCAA scrutiny.

    Roy can say he never knew – because the ‘athletic academic support’ folks don’t report to him.
    Cunningham (the AD) can say he never knew – because they don’t report to him, either.

    Ditto for coaches and staff all the way back…here’s a nice little nuggest from CBS Sports:

    There were 54 basketball player enrollments in AFAM independent studies during Dean Smith’s 36 years, 17 during Bill Guthridge’s three years, 42 during Matt Doherty’s three years, and 167 in Williams’ 11 years. Doherty told investigators that although he felt free to make significant changes to the rest of North Carolina’s coaching staff upon being hired in 2000, he was told by Smith and Guthridge not to change the academic support system. That system was being handled by Burgess McSwain, an academic counselor with close ties to Crowder.

    Gee, why would Smith AND Guthridge tell Doherty that the ONE THING he shouldn’t touch was the academic support system?

    Prediction #1: EVERY NCAA school in Division I (and quite a few in D2/D3) will remove all ‘athletic academic support’ operations from their athletic departments. They’ll all be “part of the University, not part of athletics – none of them report to the AD”…so any questions about classes/grades or academic eigibility will be “internal University matters”…and the NCAA will be frozen in place by the precedent they set with UNC.

    Prediction #2: A player or NCAA member school will challenge their NCAA eligibility ruling, saying that it’s up to each high school to assert that their courses meet NCAA standards and certify that their grades accurately reflect the student’s work…and that the NCAA has no business investigating “internal academic matters” at high schools. How can the NCAA defend themselves on THAT question after this?

    If either (or both) of those comes to pass, stick a fork in the NCAA – they’re done. I think that a LOT of D2/D3 schools will say, “You know, we can just drop down to NAIA play – they have football”, and the power conferences will say, “Yeah, let’s just set up our own thing.”

  18. TBW3011
    6:07 pm October 13, 2017 Permalink

    Why was the NCAA worried about Bledsoe’s Algebra 2 course? Sounds to me like it’s none of their business how he received his grade in the course.

  19. jpgfile
    9:20 pm October 14, 2017 Permalink

    Cool. Torres posted this Oct.14 at 5:10pm, but everyone’s comments are dated Oct.13. Sounds like we have an intel leak — you people got advance copy!

  20. jpgfile
    9:34 pm October 14, 2017 Permalink

    Anyway, hate to poo on everyone’s parade, but the NCAA did have a leg to stand on — and a landmine to avoid. If an academic department operates in a certain way, and every enrollee gets the same treatment, then there is no impermissible benefit. Any joe schmoe can enroll and take the class. The root of the problem is the joke that are race studies departments. No honest person of any political or intellectual persuasion regards them as anything but a farce. I bet you dollars to donuts that the sham classes and coursework are what most of those departments’ students get. Why do you think UNC didn’t steer athletes to Geology, or Physics, or Business Admin., or pre-med? And so the NCAA decided they weren’t going to look real close at the reality of “African American Studies” or else that landmine would have blown them to bits with accusations of racism & all the hatred that comes with such an accusation. So instead of risking the “racism” bomb, they prefer to regard as normal the shunting of young black men and women into coursework and majors that are easy to pass, encourage racial separatism, and offer no legitimate credentials for the broader job market.

    • wesmorgan1
      10:42 pm October 14, 2017 Permalink

      You’re ignoring (willfully?) the fact that the NCAA never questions majors or degree programs, including the various Bachelor of General Studies programs to be found at many member schools. (UK offered the BGS, aka ‘Blue Grass Special’, back in the Singletary years.)

      Let’s look at some other examples of players at particular schools ‘clustering’ in particular degree programs. In 2012, 51% of Baylor’s football team majored in general studies (as opposed to 1% of all students), 37% of TAMU’s hoops and football players majored in agricultural leadership and development (as opposed to 1% of all students), and 7 of Iowa State’s 11 basketball players majored in liberal studies. At Oklahoma State, 34% of football players are education majors (as opposed to 10% of all students).

      All of this, and your argument is that the mere existence of race studies is the root of the problem.



    • jpgfile
      11:37 pm October 14, 2017 Permalink

      Nope, not ignoring them at all. They just weren’t an issue at UNC and aren’t necessarily lame as a whole, though they are worthy of investigation. Had no need to bring them up. But an “Athletics Association” might not have any business decreeing what percentage of athletes should major in anything, not if eligibility is the association’s alleged concern. Demographics almost never match up with such choices; check out the percentage of Elementary Ed majors who are female vs. the student body as a whole (great research on other schools, by the way). If those seven ISU players are given course requirements that differ from non-athletes in that major, then you have a violation. If every last student in the department has such bunny courses, then the problem is the department, or the field itself.

      As for the NCAA, they really can’t make up their mind about anything and it will be their death knell one day. Others on here fairly note that the Penn State case was a criminal case, not a college sports rules case, and yet they threw the book at the football team. The NCAA claims to be gung-ho about academics, yet allows UNC to extend a middle finger; if this was Morehead State, the school would get killed while also enduring a lecture about disservice to black athletes. Keeping a kid eligible is okay, but buy that kid a pair of shoes that his working-three-jobs mom couldn’t afford, and horrors! A kid can sign a minor-league baseball contract and still be allowed to come back and play football, but that kid in Colorado years back who made money skiing or something was declared ineligible. Put your mistress on the athletic department payroll, no prob, but we’ll go bust a UK player who took a vitamin supplement.

      You got me not.

      *saline drops for your poor eyeball*