UNC eyes Julius Peppers controversy

Updated: August 14, 2012, 12:40 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

North Carolina is investigating how what appears to be a transcript for former football star Julius Peppers surfaced on the university's website.

In a statement Monday, the school said it has removed the link and that it couldn't discuss confidential student information covered by federal privacy laws. The school didn't confirm the authenticity of the partial grade summary, which lists Peppers' name at the top.

"Student academic records should never be accessible to the public, and the university is investigating reports of what appears to be a former student transcript on the university's website," the school said.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Al Bello/Getty ImagesJulius Peppers' dominance on the field at North Carolina translated into lottery-pick riches when he was chosen No. 2 overall by the Panthers in 2002.

The link, which surfaced late Sunday, showed Peppers received some of his highest grades in classes in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM). A school investigation has since found fraud and poor oversight in 54 AFAM classes between summer 2007 and summer 2011, with football players making up more than a third of the enrollments and student-athletes making up 58 percent of the overall enrollments in those suspect classes.

Nine of the 10 classes in which Peppers earned a B-plus, B or B-minus that could have helped ensure his eligibility came in the AFAM department where he was majoring, according to the possible transcript. Three were listed as independent study classes, another problem area cited in the school's probe for a lack of supervision of work -- often a research paper -- performed by students.

The possible transcript lists a 1.824 GPA, beginning with classes during summer 1998 and finishing in fall 2001 during Peppers' last year on the football field for the Tar Heels under first-year coach John Bunting. The link lacked grades for five classes in the summer and fall 2001 terms.

If authentic, the transcript would raise the possibility the AFAM troubles go back much further than the four-year focus of the investigation, although the school's report in May already acknowledged the misconduct could reach before 2007.

Peppers' agent, Carl Carey Jr., worked as an academic counselor in UNC's athletic department from 1998 to 2002. Carey told the Charlotte Observer that multiple players he counseled were "overwhelmed" by their academic responsibilities but did not confirm or deny to the paper that the transcript belonged to Peppers.

"In my time at the university, I counseled many overwhelmed student-athletes," Carey told The Observer.

In his interview, Carey said many student-athletes were "unprepared" for the academic rigors at UNC, likening their experiences to an average student attempting to play Division I football for the first time.

"A typical student would fear for their life if they were sent out on a football field with the football team," he told the paper. "They would feel unprepared. They would feel scared. They would feel inadequate.

"And so you could assume an athlete whose academic records suggest that they're likely going to struggle, and you put them in a classroom with (high) SAT (scores), guess how they're feeling?"

Peppers declined comment to reporters after Monday night's Bears practice.

The link surfaced a day after The News & Observer of Raleigh published a story citing what the university called a "test transcript" used to help students and advisers with a computer program for determining courses needed for graduation. School officials told the newspaper it wasn't a real transcript for an actual student.

But the "test transcript" -- which also dates to 2001 -- mirrors the possible Peppers transcript and matches 34 of 36 classes, the newspaper reported Monday.

Peppers also played two seasons for the men's basketball team under Bill Guthridge and Matt Doherty, serving as a reserve on the team that reached the Final Four in 2000.

Peppers was the No. 2 pick of the Carolina Panthers in the 2002 NFL draft and spent eight seasons there. He signed with Chicago in 2010 and is a six-time Pro Bowl defensive end.

The school's investigation of the AFAM department began as an offshoot of the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct in the football program, which began in June 2010. That probe ultimately led to the firing of coach Butch Davis in July 2011, although Davis wasn't cited for a violation when the NCAA penalized the program in March with a one-year bowl ban and 15 scholarship reductions over three years.

Davis, who has denied knowledge of wrongdoing, has said he never steered players to take AFAM classes nor met former department chairman Julius Nyang'oro -- whose name was linked to the grade rolls or as instructor of record for the majority of the suspect AFAM classes. Nyang'oro, who had led the department since 1997, resigned as department chairman in August 2011 and retired from the faculty in July.

The AFAM investigation also found unauthorized grade changes, reports of possibly forged faculty signatures on grade rolls and infrequent classes. The school has said there is no evidence of preferential treatment for student-athletes or grades awarded without written work in the suspect classes.

In June, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn referred questions to the school when asked whether investigators would return to Chapel Hill. Osburn didn't immediately return an email for comment Monday.

The UNC board of governors -- which oversees the 17-campus public university system -- has appointed a four-member panel to review the school's investigation of the AFAM irregularities. The school also has imposed stricter standards on independent study coursework, among other changes.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.