Updated 5:49 p.m., October 13, 2017
An NCAA infractions committee decided it will not punish UNC as it relates to "paper courses" attended by students, including student athletes.
The NCAA – which oversees athletics at universities across the nation – did hand down penalties against the chair and secretary of the UNC department at which these courses were offered. But the panel concluded that because these classes were open to more than just student athletes, it could not punish the university as a whole.
“While student-athletes likely benefited from the so-called ‘paper courses’ offered by North Carolina, the information available in the record did not establish that the courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student athletes,” said Greg Sankey, the panel’s chief hearing officer and commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, in a statement.
Sankey added: “The panel is troubled by the university’s shifting positions about whether academic fraud occurred on its campus and the credibility of the Cadwalader report, which it distanced itself from after initially supporting the findings. However, NCAA policy is clear. The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred and, ultimately, the panel is bound to making decisions within the rules set by the membership.”
According to the NCAA report, released Friday morning, the case involved allegations that UNC "provided student-athletes with extra benefits through special access and course assistance, including heavy involvement from the former department chair and a former curriculum secretary."
The NCAA panel noted that determining academic fraud was out of its purview, something UNC has argued for months. The panel did find the academic department's former chair and secretary did not cooperate in the investigation.
In a statement release Friday afternoon, UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said she is grateful the case has been resolved.
“We believe this is the correct—and fair—outcome,” Folt said. “I believe we have done everything possible to correct and move beyond the past academic irregularities and have established very robust processes to prevent them from recurring.”
The ruling comes roughly eight weeks after UNC appeared before the infractions panel in August in Nashville, Tennessee, for a two-day hearing that included Chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men's basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. The school faced five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.
In an afternoon press briefing, UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said UNC's behavior didn't "quite fit into a bylaw or a rule or something."
"We're not proud of the behavior, but we didn't think it violated the bylaw, and today the committee on infractions revealed to us that they came to that same conclusion," Cunningham said.
African and Afro-American Studies Focus of the Investigation
The focus was independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department on the Chapel Hill campus. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes but didn't meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.
In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports making up roughly half the enrollments.
The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.
The oft-delayed case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program resulting in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and again in December.
UNC has challenged the NCAA's jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter.
Chancellor Folt on Friday said resolution of this case is part of a larger effort working with administrators, faculty and staff across campus, as well as with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, UNC’s accrediting agency. She said UNC has developed more than 70 reforms and initiatives, including some in the areas of academic advising and academic oversight.
“We continue to devote extraordinary resources to monitoring and refining these reforms and initiatives that have already have had such a profound impact on our University,” Folt said.
Reporter Rusty Jacobs and the Associated Press contributed to this report.