New UNC Allegations Focus on Women's Basketball

April 26, 2016

A new notice of allegations sent to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Monday from the National Collegiate Athletic Association focused on women's basketball and made no mention of the men's basketball or football teams. Together, the two teams accounted for more than half of all athletes who enrolled in the fraudulent courses at the center of the NCAA's investigation.

For 20 years, some employees at the university knowingly steered about 1,500 athletes toward no-show courses that never met and were not taught by any faculty members, and in which the only work required was a single research paper that received a high grade no matter the content. Following the university's own investigation into the courses, the NCAA sent a notice of allegations to UNC last year.

The notice alleged that the university "provided impermissible benefits to student-athletes that were not generally available to the student body." While the notice did not name any UNC employees connected to the men's basketball or football programs as subjects of its investigation, it did broadly refer to those athletes as participating in the fake courses and receiving impermissible benefits. 

In August, the university notified the NCAA that it had found additional information about improper academic assistance being provided to the women's basketball team by an academic counselor, prompting the association to further investigate and then issue the new notice. Though the charges against UNC remain significant, the references to the men's basketball and football teams, as well as the broad language about impermissible benefits for athletes, are all missing from the updated notice of allegations.

Mary Willingham, a former academic counselor who helped bring the scam to light, said Monday that the women's basketball team was complicit in the scam, but that to focus so much on the women's team and not mention men's basketball or football is unfair. 

According to the university's report, football players accounted for 51 percent of the athletes taking the phony courses, and twelve percent were men's basketball players. Six percent of athletes taking the courses were women's basketball players.

"The NCAA keeps showing us the truth about them and about their member institutions," Willingham said. "They're going to protect their money. Why would they try to hurt their profits, when they can just hurt the women?"

The new notice charges the university with five violations, including a lack of institutional control and failure to monitor the departments that offered the fraudulent courses. The notice largely focuses on women's basketball and a former academic counselor for the team named Jan Boxill. In a statement, Boxill's lawyer said "there is no legitimate reason for the women's basketball team to be singled out for special scrutiny or punishment." 

The amended notice of allegations -- which supersedes and replaces last year's notice -- also narrows the time frame in which the fraudulent courses took place. The university's own report found that the courses began in 1993 and ended in 2011. The original notice of allegations focused on courses beginning in 2002. The new notice describes the classes as starting in 2005, which means its men's basketball team that won a national championship in 2005 -- and accounted for several enrollments in the courses -- is now likely in the clear.

Bubba Cunningham, UNC's athletic director, declined to speculate why the notice no longer mentioned men's basketball and football or why the allegations of impermissible benefits focused only on women's basketball, saying the NCAA determined what charges to bring against UNC by comparing the facts of the case with the association's bylaws. The university has 90 days to respond to the notice.

"Lack of institutional control, failure to monitor, those are significant charges," Cunningham said. "I just want to focus on what we have in front of us."

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