Exhale

It's over. After more than seven years of reviews, investigations –both internal and external,  panels and articles, columns, opinions, tweets, texts and message board posts, it's over. The NCAA's investigation into academic violations at the University of North Carolina is finally over with the release this morning of the Committee on Infractions Report.

The committee identified violations from two individuals —former African and Afro-American Studies department chair Julius Nyang'oro (unethical conduct and failure to cooperate) and former department secretary Deborah Crowder (unethical conduct and failure to cooperate)— but not the institution.

The committee on infractions did not find that the so-called 'paper classes' at Carolina were created and maintained solely for athlete eligibility, and thus could not conclude that academic violations concurred.

As is quoted in the report summary:

“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. “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.”

And so, it ends. The investigation is concluded, with Nyang'oro issued a show-cause order; should he be hired at an NCAA member school in an athletically-related position between now and October 2022, that school must "show cause" that he should not be restricted in such a position.

The investigation itself is over. The dark cloud is lifted, and we move forward, all of us, having learned much over the last seven and a half years. It's important that the Carolina community continue its introspection, continue to evaluate both the mission of the athletic department, the College of Arts & Sciences, and the university itself. Carolina does not want to find itself in this position ever again, but the university admitted mistakes, made changes and pledged to do the right things moving forward.

The talk is not over; Carolina won't be able to avoid mention of scandal for years to come. And some commentators will have come to different conclusions than the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Take the News & Observer's Luke Decock, for example.

If the NCAA can't punish North Carolina for decades of what was clearly, to any outsider, academic fraud designed to keep athletes eligible, what's the point? Already exposed as feeble and inept by the FBI, which shed more light on the seedy side of basketball recruiting in one pun-laden press conference than the NCAA ever has, Friday's admission that it has no way to punish North Carolina for decades of self-described scandal opens the door to fake classes everywhere.

Maybe it was clear to any outsider, but it wasn't clear to the insiders, the ones on the committee itself or the ones representing the university. Else, they would have concluded differently.

On pages 15 and 16 of the NCAA's report, that very allegation is addressed.

In alleging violations in this case, the enforcement staff took a narrow approach. At the most basic level, the allegations involved too much help in student-athletes' access to and assistance in the paper courses. The enforcement staff argued that the creation and administration of the paper classes violated extra benefit and ethical conduct legislation. In grappling with that question, the panel benefitted from the secretary's in-person participation at the hearing. She credibly explained that she provided the same degree of assistance to UNC students in need, regardless of their student-athlete status. Likewise, the record does not establish that the courses were created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to solely benefit student-athletes. While the record demonstrates popularity in the use of admittedly deficient courses, the panel would be required to discredit the secretary's answers and assume a motivation behind the courses. Given the secretary's statements at the hearing and gaps in the record, the panel cannot conclude that the secretary acted unethically with respect to the creation or administration of the courses. Similarly, the panel cannot conclude that the department chair acted unethically or provided extra benefits simply because he delegated authority to the secretary. Nor does Bylaw 10.01.1 apply to them, because they were not involved in administering, conducting or coaching intercollegiate athletics. 

I'm going to quote part of that again: the panel would be required to discredit the secretary's answers and assume a motivation behind the courses.

Refreshingly, the NCAA Committee on Infractions panel did not assume a narrative, was open to the idea that these classes were not created and maintained specifically for student-athletes, and ruled as such. 

And so, here we are. Clear of the cloud. Tonight at Late Night with Roy, they'll raise a 2017 NCAA men's basketball national championship banner. It will go alongside the NCAA banners from 2009, 2005, 1993, 1982 and 1957, and the 1924 Helms Foundation banner, too.

Tonight will be a celebration of a season. It will be an exhale of a collective held breath of the last seven years.

Raise a banner. Raise the roof.