Will the NCAA return to UNC?

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
5:31
PM ET

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The NCAA told University of North Carolina officials in August that the school apparently did not break any rules in the scandal surrounding the school's Afro and African-American Studies Department.

And judging by that response, Thursday’s newest report -- which revealed that the academic fraud in the department could be traced back to 1997 -- probably won’t change that.

Former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin, who headed up the latest independent investigation, emphasized again and again and again Thursday that the wrongdoing -- which involved unauthorized grade changes, forged faculty signatures on grade rolls and limited or no class time in the AFAM department -- was an academic scandal, not an athletic one.

Classes were never restricted only to student-athletes, according to the report. The percentage of unauthorized grade changes for student-athletes was consistent with student-athlete enrollment in those courses. And, Martin wrote: “There is no evidence the Counselors [for athletes], or the students, or the coaches had anything to do with perpetrating this abuse of the AFRI/AFAM curriculum, or any other.”

Those factors are key to whether the NCAA -- which was forwarded a copy of the latest report Thursday morning -- would be interested in further investigating UNC’s latest scandal.

“I don’t want to speculate on how they’re going to respond," athletic director Bubba Cunningham said of the NCAA. “We did supply it [the report] to them, and there will be some ongoing dialogue with them."

As ESPN.com wrote in August, the NCAA's rule on academic fraud falls under "Unethical Conduct" and states, fairly vaguely:
"(b) Knowing involvement in arranging for fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts for a prospective or enrolled student athlete."

According to an email from NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn last summer, academic fraud is an NCAA matter:
  • "Anytime a[n athletics] staff member knowingly is involved in arranging fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts for a prospective or enrolled student-athlete, regardless of whether the institutional staff member acted alone or in concert with the prospective or enrolled student-athlete.
  • "When a student-athlete, acting alone or in concert with others, knowingly becomes involved in arranging fraudulent academic credit or false transcripts, regardless of whether such conduct results in an erroneous declaration of eligibility."

If a student-athlete commits an academic offense (such as cheating on a test or plagiarism on a term paper) with no involvement of an institutional staff member, she said then, "it would not fall under NCAA rules unless the academic offense results in an erroneous declaration of eligibility and the student-athlete subsequently competes for the institution."

UNC has said there are no eligibility concerns related to AFAM.

And although there were a large number of athletes in the suspect classes -- more than 50 percent, according to the school’s original report that spanned from 2007-2011 and was released last May -- the "clustering" of a high number of athletes in the same course or major doesn't on its face break NCAA rules.

For example, the NCAA showed little interest when the Ann Arbor News reported in 2008 that 85 percent of 294 independent studies courses a Michigan psychology professor taught over a three-year period was comprised of athletes. And the NCAA found Auburn University committed only minor violations after the New York Times reported that 18 members of the undefeated 2004 football team took 97 hours of independent study-type courses from the same sociology professor during their careers. Non-athletes took those classes, as well.

An NCAA spokesperson did not immediately respond Thursday morning to an email seeking comment on the Martin Report.

UNC says it shared the results of its original internal probe with the NCAA before the NCAA sanctioned the football program in March for improper benefits and academic misconduct involving a tutor.

The school again updated the NCAA enforcement staff on Aug. 23 about the AFAM situation, and the school released a statement a week later that said: "The NCAA staff reaffirmed to university officials that no NCAA rules appeared to have been broken."

Cunningham said Thursday the school would continue to stay in contact with the NCAA “and answer any questions they may have.”

But considering the Martin Report basically re-confirmed what was in the school's original report, the answers probably wouldn't be much different.

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