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College Basketball: The UNC Athletic Scandal That Wasn't

An independent investigation led by former North Carolina governor James Martin in the UNC academic fraud case has been released, and it blames only the teachers, not the student athletes, coaches, or athletics department.

Independent report says Ol' Roy off the hook.
Independent report says Ol' Roy off the hook.

Hat tip: Matt Norlander of CBS Sports.

We all know about the academic scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and how many athletes received "grades" for courses that were, in some cases, almost non-existent. Today, we have the report released by the independent investigation of the scandal led by Dr. James Martin, former governor of North Carolina.

Here are the findings which, I think, you will be most interested in:

  • The UNC Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes (ASPSA) were not found to have colluded with the perpetrators of the fraud, identified as former Department of African and Afro-American Studies Chairman Nyang’oro and Administrator Crowder.
  • The scandal was isolated to the AFRI/AFAM, and was academic, not athletic, in nature.
  • It was unnecessary for the ASPSA employees to question these courses, since it was the job of each course administrator to determine how they taught their courses.
  • Dr. Nyang'oro and Ms. Crowder did not receive any unusual compensation for doing what they did.
  • They could not find evidence that the existence of these "easy" courses attracted more student athletes than any other courses offered by the department.
  • The courses where temporary grade changes were rampant did not have a higher percentage of student athletes than other courses that did not have this problem

There is a lot more to this (77 pages worth), but to me, it raises as many questions as it answers. For example, were any of the temporary grades used to keep a student-athlete eligible? Were there any grade revision significantly higher than the temporary grades? Lower? How were these correlated to academic eligibility?

Also, suppose that Dr. Nyang'oro and Ms. Crowder conspired to do this in order to make it easier for student-athletes, even without collusion by the AFRI/AFAM? I think that would still be a problem under the NCAA rules, because the school is required to monitor not only the athletic participation in the school, but must also ensure that nobody connected with the university provides them with benefits such as an "easy" class that isn't supposed to be easy.

Another question or three -- isn't there a strict liability issue here? After all, if Derrick Rose's faulty college entrance exam invalidates the games he played in, don't the unearned grades by UNC athletes in this case invalidate their eligibility in like manner? How is it possible that they don't? Another one is, by this conclusion, any professor can grade any course any way he wants, and if it happens to contain a high percentage of athletes and he grades it easy or not at all, who can gainsay him?

There are many more questions we could ask, but I am not convinced that this puts the matter to rest. UNC fans will receive it with relief, and I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with the review, or even the conclusions. I'm just saying that the review did not really look at the matter from the standpoint of the NCAA rulebook, which is both understandable and reasonable, since they weren't tasked with that, it was outside the scope of the investigation.

In my humble opinion, however, it does not answer all the questions that need to be asked. Hopefully, those will be answered, at least to some degree, by the ongoing NCAA/UNC review.