North Carolina surprised and angry over tougher third list of allegations

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Jeff Eisenberg
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North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham was 'disappointed' by the latest list of allegations. (Getty Images)
North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham was ‘disappointed’ by the latest list of allegations. (Getty Images)

Apparently unhappy with the charitable nature of the amended Notice of Allegations sent to North Carolina last April, the NCAA’s committee on infractions acted in unprecedented fashion last month.

It urged NCAA enforcement staffers to consider a do-over.

The committee’s request resulted in Thursday’s release of a significantly harsher list of allegations stemming from longstanding academic fraud at North Carolina that benefited athletes in disproportionate numbers. The newest Notice of Allegations puts football and men’s basketball back in the crosshairs, broadens the time frame of violations and expands the scope of potential penalties North Carolina could receive.

Among the biggest changes is the NCAA reintroducing the argument that the bogus classes constitute extra benefits for the athletes enrolled in them. The Notice of Allegations claims that North Carolina’s athletic department leveraged its relationship with two African-American Studies professors to “obtain and/or provide special arrangements for student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation.”

No longer does the Notice of Allegations single out North Carolina’s women’s basketball team as the previous version seemed to do. The new edition specifically states that “many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility.”

The NCAA’s latest allegations span from 2002-2011, a period which includes national titles the Tar Heels men’s basketball team won in 2005 and 2009. If the NCAA’s committee on infractions deems that players on those teams received extra benefits, they could be ruled ineligible, which would put North Carolina at risk of potentially vacating those titles.

North Carolina released the NCAA’s newest list of allegations Thursday afternoon and then hastily set up a conference call with reporters to voice its displeasure. Athletic director Bubba Cunningham believes the NCAA is circumventing its own bylaws when it revised the second Notice of Allegations and then issued a third one.

“I’m surprised and disappointed by the entire third NOA,” Cunningham said. “I have never seen three notices on the same case.

“We spent two years with the enforcement staff and we think we got it right. Then the committee on infractions suggests to the enforcement staff after a two-year investigation to reconsider. That’s unprecedented in my mind.”

Cunningham’s frustration dates back to when officials from North Carolina and the NCAA convened for a jurisdictional meeting in October.

North Carolina’s athletic director alleges that committee on infractions chair and SEC commissioner Greg Sankey refused to admit into record two critical documents explaining why the second list of allegations better aligned with NCAA bylaws than the first one did. According to Cunningham, Sankey then insisted that the absence of that information gave enforcement staffers cause to go revisit the list of allegations a third time.

“The panel requests that the enforcement staff review whether the potential violations in this case are alleged in a fashion to best decide this case,” the committee on infractions wrote in a Nov. 28 letter released Thursday by North Carolina. “Were the enforcement staff to determine that any material changes are necessary to best position the case for the panel’s consideration, it should … issue a second [Amended Notice of Allegations].”

To Cunningham, the committee on infractions’ interference is patently unfair. It’s akin to a jury listening to arguments from both sides at a trial and then urging the prosecution to return with a stronger case. That would never happen in a court of law, but sometimes the NCAA makes its own rules.

‘We believe that the process has gotten off track and we have serious concerns about that,” Cunningham said.

“I fear the committee on infractions has wide latitude. We want to make sure everyone including the committee on infractions stays within their jurisdictional lane.”

In addition to increasing the scope of potential penalties that could be levied against North Carolina, the arrival of a third list of allegations could drag an already five-year-old case out even further.

North Carolina has 90 days to respond, and it’s likely to use all 90. Then the NCAA has 60 days to provide a response to the committee on infractions, which only then can set up a hearing to review and rule on the case.

In other words, this circus of a case could drag into late 2017 — or longer if North Carolina challenges the ruling.

Said Cunningham, “We’re going to follow this process through to the very end.”