The NCAA’s long-awaited final report in the UNC-Chapel Hill case will come out on Friday, according to multiple sources. The report will bring a formal ending – at least for now, pending whether UNC decides to appeal the ruling – to an investigation that began in June 2014.
Here are some questions and answers about what this means, what to expect and what could be next:
Q. What does this all mean?
A. This is it – the NCAA Committee on Infractions’ final investigative report, the one that everyone (the university, its coaches, its fans, fans of opposing schools, interested observers of college athletics) has been waiting to see for a very long time. How long? Remember that the NCAA’s investigation – which followed a separate investigation into UNC’s football program – began in June 2014.
Since then, we’ve been waiting for resolution. It has not come easily, or quickly. This has been a case marked by several unusual delays. UNC received the NCAA’s first Notice of Allegations (NOA) in May 2015. Since then, it has received two more revised NOAs, the second of which led to UNC’s hearing with the NCAA Committee on Infractions in August in Nashville, Tenn.
And now, eight weeks after that hearing, which spanned 15 hours over two days, here we are. The final investigative report will reveal, at last, what sanctions UNC faces after the NCAA’s years-long investigation into how bogus African Studies courses helped maintain the eligibility of athletes.
Q. What kind of penalties is UNC facing?
A. The only people who know that, for now, are the ones who decided them. As of Thursday, not even UNC is aware of what’s coming. The university will receive a copy of the final investigative on Friday morning, hours before its public release.
The infractions committee, of which Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey has been the presiding chairman, decided how to penalize UNC after the university’s hearing in mid-August. The decision was likely a quick one, with the committee spending most of the past eight weeks revising and fine-tuning its final report.
Now comes the reveal. At their most severe, penalties could include postseason bans in several sports (men’s basketball and football included) and the vacation of victories (including, perhaps, UNC’s 2005 men’s basketball national championship, which falls into the investigatory timeline the NCAA used).
Those kinds of penalties – postseason bans, the vacation of a championship – would be considered the harshest, and would likely invoke a strong desire, among the university and its supporters, to fight the ruling in every way conceivable. Tamer sanctions would include probation, a fine and scholarship reductions, depending on the depth of those potential cuts.
Q. What is the process for the unveiling the report on Friday?
A. The university will receive a copy of the report early Friday morning. Hours later, the report will be posted publicly. About an hour after that, there will be a media teleconference with NCAA officials. To give you an idea of what an infractions report looks like, here’s the NCAA’s final investigative report it released in 2012 at the end of the investigation into UNC’s football program.
Q. What will be the next step after Friday?
A. That depends entirely on the contents of the report, and particularly the part of it that details the sanctions that UNC is facing. The question of how this case advances beyond Friday depends on what the penalties are, and only what the penalties are.
If the penalties are ones that UNC can live with – such as probation, a fine, some scholarship reductions here and there – then the university likely takes those and moves on. But what if the penalties are more drastic?
Penalties that would likely result in an appeal include postseason bans and the vacation of victories – especially if the vacation of victories includes the loss of a championship. The case the NCAA Enforcement Staff crafted in this case makes it difficult to project how individual sports might be affected.
No individual sport, or coach, faces a specific allegation of wrongdoing. The enforcement staff broadly alleges, instead, that the courses at the heart of the case “in some cases … influenced the student-athletes’ NCAA academic eligibility.”
Generally speaking, in order to vacate victories and championships, there needs to be concrete proof that a team used an ineligible athlete. Such concrete proof doesn’t exist in UNC’s case, and the NCAA has never attempted to make the case that various teams used players who would have been ineligible if not for the classes at the heart of the investigation.
Even so, the NCAA has attempted to make the case that, “in some cases,” these courses “influenced” eligibility. How that accusation translates into the penalties that UNC will receive is one of the most significant questions, if not the most significant, that the report will answer.
If the committee on infractions levies a postseason ban, or that victories must be vacated, it’s almost 100 percent that UNC would appeal that ruling. The NCAA’s Infractions Appeals Committee, which you can read about here, would then have the final say in the case.
If UNC still finds the ruling to be unfair, its administration has hinted that it would be prepared to take the case to court. How such a legal fight would work is too early to surmise – though the ruling on Friday will illuminate whether such a path is conceivable.