Dan Kane of the Raleigh News and Observer has a report that a paragraph in one of UNC’s many investigations into its academic fraud scandal was altered, seemingly with the intent of keeping the NCAA from investigating. This portion:
Although we may never know for certain, it was our impression from multiple interviews that the involvement of Deborah Crowder seems to have been that of an athletics supporter who was extremely close to personnel in Athletics…
Was changed to this:
Although we may never know for certain, it was our impression from multiple interviews that a department staff member managed to…
While this bit that followed both above sections was left unchanged:
use the system to help players by directing them to enroll in courses in the African and Afro-American Studies Department that turned out to be aberrant or irregularly taught.
If this worked, and the change had any material impact on whether the NCAA decided or decides to take a more active stance in North Carolina’s academic fraud scandal, it says as much about the NCAA as it would UNC.
All of the critical elements for the NCAA to decide whether to investigate are there. Even the watered-down version raises the possibility that an institutional staff member was knowingly involved in arranging for fraudulent academic credit for enrolled student-athletes. The phrases emphasized are straight out of Bylaw 10.1. Nowhere in that bylaw does it mention the need for that staff member to be a fan of the institution’s athletics programs or for that person to have specific type of relationship with athletics staff.
The NCAA could have decided that the alleged conduct here, a staff member directing student-athletes to enroll in courses that were not being conducted according to institutional policy, does not constitute academic fraud. Namely that the credit was not fraudulent, and that the student-athletes earned the credit, however easy that may have been.
But why this staff member directed student-athletes to those courses should not have been part of the decision to investigate. It may be relevant down the road when determining which violations (like failure to monitor or lack of institutional control) to charge UNC with or what the penalties might be if the case got that far. But it should be irrelevant to the question of whether the NCAA needs to go find out what happened.
It will be hard to judge whether that occurred from the outside now for a couple of reasons. First, no one but the NCAA and North Carolina has a precise idea of what the status of any investigation is or how hands-on the NCAA is at the moment. The NCAA could be on UNC’s campus right now for all we know, although the attention paid to this case suggests we would know.
More importantly, the fact that one of UNC’s many internal investigations was massaged in this manner gives the NCAA an out. Assume the NCAA was not investigating North Carolina in the traditional sense before knowing about this change to the faculty report. If they now take a more critical look, the NCAA can claim it was not the specific information which was deleted from the report that prompted them to get more involved. Rather it was the change itself, which calls into question the credibility of this and other reports and requires the NCAA to question North Carolina’s conclusions more closely.
This revelation from Dan Kane also raises an entirely new angle to this ongoing saga. Regardless of whether the NCAA ever finds that any violation occurred at UNC, there is now a separate issue of whether an ethical conduct violation occurred and whether UNC has fulfilled its obligation to cooperate with the investigation. Anyone who follows the NCAA’s enforcement arm even casually knows that the NCAA takes giving anything but the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth during investigations very seriously. Even if the person or institution is trying to cover up something that is a minor violation or even not one at all.
Far from keeping the NCAA at bay, this change now all but forces the enforcement staff to get off the sidelines and dig into the meat and potatoes of these allegations. There were already issues that clearly demanded a closer look from the NCAA, like unauthorized grade changes and revoking credit from students. But they were on the periphery. Now the NCAA has to take point on the central questions: how athletes ended up in these classes and how UNC has handled the case since.