One week from Wednesday, North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora will be in Nashville, Tenn., to appear at UNC’s long-awaited hearing with the NCAA Committee on Infractions. It is not a trip, necessarily, that Fedora wanted to make during the middle of his team’s preseason.
“I knew it was a possibility,” he said recently. “You can look at every case across the country, and whoever’s in charge of football, whoever’s in charge of basketball – you know, they’re always there. I had a feeling. I was hoping it wouldn’t, but that’s just the way it happened.”
The university’s appearance before the infractions committee is essentially its trial date after a three-year NCAA investigation into how suspect African Studies courses benefited athletes, notably men’s basketball and football players, between 2002 and 2011.
UNC’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, found that the classes, which began in 1993, lacked integrity. SACS also determined the courses, and their surrounding problems, to be in violation of six of its other principles, and for that UNC was placed on probation.
During the 18 years that the problem courses existed, though, Fedora was not around. UNC hired him in December 2011, and he began his duties in January 2012, near the end of a separate NCAA investigation into misdeeds in the football program, ones that led to Fedora’s hiring in the first place.
At the time, UNC’s administration assured Fedora that the NCAA problems would soon be a thing of the past. Indeed, the infractions committee offered its final ruling in the football investigation in March 2012, banning the football team from the postseason for one year.
It proved to be an especially costly penalty. Without it, the Tar Heels would have played in the ACC championship game in Fedora’s first season. Even so, Fedora embraced the apparent end of an investigation that had created uncertainty, and one that made recruiting more difficult.
Five years later, he’s still waiting for that ending. The NCAA opened the investigation into the African Studies courses in June 2014, and by May 2015 UNC received a Notice of Allegations (NOA). Several delays and two amended NOAs later, there still is no resolution in the case.
Despite that, Fedora has said that the recruiting challenges that persisted early in his tenure at UNC are no longer much of a factor. To him, the ongoing NCAA investigation has been something of an afterthought, given that it has focused on problems that predate his arrival at UNC.
It is not an afterthought anymore, though, with UNC’s infractions hearing scheduled during the middle of one of Fedora’s busiest times of the year. The NCAA requested his attendance, along with that of Roy Williams, the men’s basketball coach, and Sylvia Hatchell, the women’s basketball coach.
None of them have been charged with wrongdoing, and the NCAA’s charges specifically name three individuals: Debby Crowder and Julius Nyang’oro, two former African Studies department employees, and Jan Boxill, a former women’s basketball academic counselor.
The NCAA alleges that UNC’s athletic department used its relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to create special access to courses that included little instruction, required little work and resulted in high grades that helped maintain the eligibility of academically at-risk athletes.
Fedora has made it clear for years that he arrived at UNC after the bogus classes ceased to exist. Williams and Hatchell, meanwhile, have denied wrongdoing. The coaches’ role at the hearing next week remains unclear, as does the NCAA’s reasoning for requesting their presence and not that of other coaches.
The athlete enrollments in the courses, after all, weren’t limited to football and men’s and women’s basketball players. Athletes from several other sports, including baseball and women’s soccer, also enrolled in the classes during their 18-year existence.
Nonetheless, Fedora said that he will be going to the hearing “for support, really.”
“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” he said. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important for not only the NCAA, but also the university. It shows that compliance is important to me and our program.”
The hearing will begin early next Wednesday, and it could stretch into Thursday. It is unclear how long the coaches’ presence will be required. Fedora said he had scheduled no practice for next Wednesday, anyway, and if he needs to remain in Nashville on Thursday, his team will go to work without him.
“Whether I’m here or not,” he said, “I think the staff will handle it, and they’ll do a great job with it.”
And then the waiting will continue for a resolution that has been years in the making.