North Carolina

UNC’s NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing ends after nearly 15 hours of deliberation

North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora, center, arrives with his attorney Russ Campbell, back right, at the school’s infractions hearing with the NCAA on Wednesday.
North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora, center, arrives with his attorney Russ Campbell, back right, at the school’s infractions hearing with the NCAA on Wednesday. AP

UNC-Chapel Hill’s appearance before the NCAA Committee on Infractions ended on Thursday, after two days of meetings that lasted nearly 15 hours.

University officials, and those from the NCAA, left the hearing without commenting, or offering any indication of how the proceedings went. UNC originally intended to issue a statement about the hearing but then decided not to, citing NCAA rules that prohibit comment.

“Can’t talk about the hearing and can’t talk about the facts of the case so there is nothing to add at this time,” Steve Kirschner, a university spokesman, wrote in a text message.

The infractions hearing was the next step in a long NCAA investigation into the relationship between the athletic department and a “shadow curriculum,” as former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein put it, of bogus African Studies courses the NCAA alleged helped athletes maintain eligibility.

The NCAA charged UNC with five Level I violations, including a lack of institutional control. That charge is the most severe UNC faces, along with charges of impermissible benefits that are tied to the courses at the heart of the case.

BUBBA
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham arrives at an NCAA hearing on Wednesday. The two-day hearing ended Thursday afternoon. Mark Zaleski AP

The infractions committee had the authority to accept the NCAA’s case, reject parts of it or add additional charges. It was unclear to what degree the committee accepted the case the NCAA built. If it did accept it, then the next step would be for the committee to form its final ruling, and then release it.

That ruling would include whatever penalties and sanctions the university faces. It could take several months for the committee to issue that ruling. When UNC appeared before the committee in 2011 amid a separate investigation into its football program, it took 136 days for the ruling to become public.

Roy Williams, UNC’s men’s basketball coach, and Sylvia Hatchell, the women’s basketball coach, attended the hearing on Wednesday and Thursday, at the NCAA’s request. Larry Fedora, the football coach, attended Wednesday but not Thursday.

HATCHELL
University of North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell and former UNC professor and women’s basketball program adviser Jan Boxill arrive at the school’s infractions hearing with the NCAA on Wednesday. Mark Zaleski AP

Debby Crowder and Jan Boxill, both of whom were charged with violations, also attended the Wednesday portion of the hearing and left before it resumed on Thursday. University officials who attended both days included chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, and a team of legal and compliance representatives.

The hearing, held in a guarded conference room at the Gaylord Opryland resort, began at 8:30 a.m. local time both days and ended a little after 1 p.m. on Thursday. It took more than three years and two months for this case to reach the infractions committee, and now the wait for finality continues.

After the infractions committee issues its final ruling, UNC will have the right to appeal the ruling if it finds its sanctions to be too harsh. Cunningham, the athletic director, has said that the university is prepared to “exhaust” its available options to defend itself against a process it has considered unfair.

The university has argued that the issues central to the case, those related to the bogus African Studies courses, aren’t subject to NCAA bylaws. UNC has also argued that the NCAA should not be able to base parts of its case on Wainstein’s investigation, which was completed in 2014.

Those are but two of the arguments that likely came up during the hearing. Others, undoubtedly, focused on how the NCAA has tied the courses to impermissible benefits violations, and whether the university indeed lacked institutional control.

There was no indication on Thursday about how the proceedings went. When the hearing ended, the lawyers from both sides, school officials and Williams and Hatchell quickly walked out of the room, most of them disappearing from sight around a corner.

Soon, a hotel employee with a luggage rack showed up, and UNC’s legal team piled four bankers boxes worth of documents atop it. It was a small sample size of the materials the university brought to Nashville in an attempt to defend itself. And now the waiting will go on.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

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