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NCAA committee endorses new rules to govern academic integrity

UNC academic scandal explained

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was extensively investigated by the NCAA for a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.
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The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was extensively investigated by the NCAA for a system of fake classes taken by thousands of students, roughly half of them athletes, that spanned three decades.

The NCAA’s Division I Committee on Academics endorsed an academic integrity rules change Friday that, by its own description, takes aim at the long-running academic-athletic scandal at UNC-Chapel Hill.

According to an NCAA release, the change “would create an overarching bylaw to capture instances of systemic, willful disregard for academic integrity that impacted student-athlete eligibility or fair competition.”

The NCAA investigated UNC for a system of fake classes taken by 3,100 students, roughly half of them athletes, that ran for 18 years. The school received three notices of allegations during the drawn-out inquiry before the NCAA’s committee on infractions determined it couldn’t sanction the university in 2017.

The infractions committee said it could not pursue an academic fraud bylaw violation because NCAA rules give universities the right to determine whether fraud occurred on campus, and UNC officials had asserted the classes were legitimate under its rules at the time. UNC has since adopted reforms that prohibit them.

The committee also said it couldn’t pursue an impermissible benefit violation against UNC because non-athletes were also enrolled in the classes, which had no instruction and were largely created and graded by an academic secretary.

Legal, public relations and investigative expenses dealing with the scandal ultimately cost UNC $21 million.

Former UNC-Chapel Hill reading specialist Mary Willingham and history professor Jay Smith discuss the academic scandal at UNC during a 2015 interview.

The 20-person Committee on Academics, in its decisions this week, supported the changes to the NCAA’s academic integrity rules and policies that grew out of last month’s NCAA Division I Presidential Forum. The decision represents another step in a process that began last year after a special commission on college basketball led by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for changes to the NCAA’s rules to give it more jurisdiction over academic matters.

NCAA President Mark Emmert talks with News & Observer reporter Dan Kane after telling the Knight Commission that polling says only a small portion of Americans thinks UNC was held to account for an academic scandal.

The plan supported by the academics committee would be to create a separate committee to “examine potential enforcement allegations to be sure the situation demonstrated systematic and pervasive problems that show a willful disregard for academic integrity that otherwise didn’t fall under NCAA rules.”

“The Committee on Academics supports NCAA rules and policies that promote a positive educational experience for student-athletes. We want to reinforce the values of higher education within athletics departments,” committee chair John J. DeGioia, Georgetown’s president, said in a statement Friday provided by the NCAA. “The NCAA has an interest in maintaining a level playing field for student-athletes, and the committee members have tried to balance that need with a deference to member schools’ individual autonomy.”

N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson also sits on the committee, as does Gardner-Webb president Frank Bonner.

The NCAA’s Board of Trustees must approve the proposed changes before they are passed on to the full membership to approve any new bylaws.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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