On May 20, 2015, the NCAA’s vice president for enforcement sent North Carolina a letter alleging lack of institutional control by the university for providing athletes special access to fraudulent African Studies courses. It noted that the practice continued unchecked for 18 years, “particularly in the sports of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.”
Ordinarily, that Notice of Allegations would have led to a Committee on Infractions hearing, and, a few months later, sanctions. Nearly two years later, however, the case continues to drag on due to a series of unusual maneuvers by each side.
Which has worked out exceptionally well for North Carolina.
This weekend, the Tar Heels will make their second straight trip to the men’s Final Four. Had the academic scandal resolved itself more swiftly, it’s not a stretch to think UNC might have been ineligible for at least one if not both of those NCAA tournaments.
To be clear, no one currently involved with UNC basketball has ever been implicated in any NCAA wrongdoing. The allegations at the heart of the case cover a period from 2002–11 and do not mention Roy Williams or any other basketball staff member.
It’s also impossible to predict whether North Carolina’s eventual punishment will include a postseason ban for men’s basketball or any other team. NCAA discipline is notoriously inconsistent from one case to the next.
But short of the Death Penalty—which it handed down just once, 30 years ago, to SMU football—a postseason ban is the most punitive measure in the NCAA’s arsenal.
It’s long been a matter of when, not if, the NCAA levies some form of heavy penalty against the UNC athletic department. The case is widely considered the most egregious academic fraud scandal in NCAA history, so concerning to the Committee on Infractions that at one point last year the judges essentially sent the file back to the prosecutors to make a stronger case.
That’s just one of many unusual steps that’s given North Carolina an extended reprieve the past several years—and the Tar Heels have certainly made the most of it.
Williams has lamented many times over the past several years the cloud of the school’s seemingly never-ending NCAA saga. “I’m tired of this junk,” Williams, 66, said in December following another development. “… I’d hoped that the NCAA thing would be over before I retired. Now I’m hoping it will be over before I die.”
While the coach’s frustration with the long wait is understandable, perhaps he should also feel a bit grateful for the opportunity it provided.
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