The NCAA has issued yet another amended notice of allegations stemming from the academic scandal at the University of North Carolina, and the new charge could lead to serious consequences for the men's basketball team.
The NCAA's new allegations include an extra-benefit charge involving men's basketball and cover a period from the 2002-03 season through the 2010-11 season. The Tar Heels won national championships in 2005 and '09. If the NCAA, through its committee on infractions, concludes that some of the players on that team received extra benefits, they could be deemed ineligible, which could lead to serious charges, including potentially vacating those titles.
The NCAA argues that the sham courses constitute extra benefits because the university used its relationship with two African-American studies professors to "obtain and/or provide special arrangements to student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation." The new notice additionally claims that "many at-risk student athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men's basketball, used these courses for ensuring their continuing NCAA eligibility."
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham, however, said on a conference call that he believes that the NCAA is operating outside of its own bylaws by both issuing and amending this third notice.
"You can't chase things because you have an opinion,'' Cunningham said. "You have to follow the bylaws. That's the standard we are held to and we expect to live by those as well. We've seen recently the NCAA has chased after some other schools and went outside their own process and that hasn't worked out very well.''
Cunningham is charging that when the university met with the NCAA in October for a jurisdictional meeting, committee on infractions chair and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey refused to admit two documents into the record that explained why the second notice of allegations -- which removed the impermissible benefits allegations, including men's basketball -- was fair and aligned properly with NCAA bylaws.
Then, according to Cunningham, Sankey argued that the absence of those documents gave the enforcement staff reason to revisit and amend the notice of allegations once more.
"That means the university was deprived an opportunity to submit evidence, and then they used that very lack of evidence against us,'' Cunningham said.
The jurisdictional hearing is uncommon, if not entirely unprecedented. North Carolina asked for the hearing to argue that the NCAA, which has long stayed out of the business of determining the worth of academic classwork, did not have the authority to punish a school based on the academic merits of its coursework.
Cunningham, however, said he did not think that meant the committee on infractions could use that hearing to revisit the merits of the case.
"We were instructed that it was just to hear the procedural claims of the case,'' he said. "I think we've slipped beyond the jurisdictional issues.''
The NCAA did not respond immediately for requests to comment.
In a statement, Division I Committee on Infractions chairman Greg Sankey said: "The Committee on Infractions and the hearing panel that has been randomly assigned to consider the University of North Carolina matter have been diligent to meet NCAA rule expectations throughout this process. The Committee will continue to provide a fair basis for a hearing to the university and individuals involved, and has afforded ample and fair opportunity for involved parties to provide context at a number of stages. Consistent with the third NOA issued independently by the NCAA enforcement staff on Dec.13, 2016, the university now has a new deadline to submit material for the hearing panel's consideration."
Cunningham did not say what action the university will take going forward, insisting rather that North Carolina will continue to follow the process through to its end. That process, of course, now will be extended even further. The NCAA issued its first notice of allegations in May 2015. This third edition means the university has 90 days to respond, with a hearing date months away at best.
"I don't know what our remedy or recourse is, but we will explore every one of them,'' Cunningham said. "But we will follow this process to the very end. We just want to make sure that everyone stays in their jurisdictional lane.''