RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is challenging the NCAA's jurisdiction to pursue charges in the school's long-running academic fraud scandal and is holding off on self-imposed penalties.
The school on Tuesday publicly released its response to five potentially top-level NCAA charges, which include lack of institutional control. UNC acknowledged problems tied to irregular courses in a department popular with athletes on the Chapel Hill campus, but it argued that its accreditation agency — and not the NCAA — was the proper authority to handle such a matter.
That agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, sanctioned the school with a year of probation that expired in June.
North Carolina responded to the NCAA's notice of allegations by basically telling the NCAA to keep out of it. It was a gutsy, somewhat arrogant response. The thing is, the school has a point.
UNC also said some charges were invalid because of an expired four-year statute of limitations. And it argued that the NCAA knew several facts that led to charges in this case when it issued sanctions against the football program in March 2012, which should have precluded any charges because a ruling is "final, binding and conclusive," according to NCAA bylaws.
UNC "raises these jurisdictional and procedural issues not to excuse the underlying conduct or to escape accountability for those events before its accreditor or elsewhere," the response states, "but rather to ensure mutual adherence to the rules that govern NCAA enforcement actions, including this one."
As a result, the "jurisdictional and procedural issues make it difficult … to assign appropriate penalties for the alleged violations," the response states.
The school argued that it disagreed with the institutional-control charge, but it accepted that former philosophy professor and women's basketball academic counselor Jan Boxill had provided improper academic assistance in several cases.
Randall Roden, a Raleigh-based attorney representing Boxill, provided The Associated Press with a copy of his client's separate response to the NCAA charges. It denies wrongdoing in the opening sentence.
"It did not happen," Boxill's response states. "Not one of the allegations against Jan Boxill is true."
The responses are the latest procedural steps in a case that began as an offshoot of that football probe that began in 2010. The school and individuals charged had 90 days to respond to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations (NOA) sent in April outlining violations, though they received a one-week extension and filed their responses Monday.
The NCAA enforcement staff now has 60 days to respond. That would eventually lead to a hearing with an infractions committee panel, with a ruling weeks to months afterward — a timeline likely to carry the case into 2017.
The case centers on independent study-style courses requiring a research paper or two while offering GPA-boosting grades in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. Many were misidentified as lecture courses that didn't meet.
A 2014 review by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports making up roughly half the enrollments.
The NCAA reopened its case in 2014 and first filed charges in May 2015. UNC was near its August 2015 response deadline when it reported additional information for review, pausing the process for eight months until the arrival of a new NOA.
The revisions to the amended NOA expanded the time range for Boxill's violations to stretch back four years earlier to February 2003 through July 2010, while a failure-to-monitor charge against the school ran from fall 2005 to summer 2011. There were also charges against each of the two former AFAM staffers most directly linked to the irregularities for failing to cooperate with NCAA investigators.
In addition to trouble for UNC with its accreditation agency, the case also led to several lawsuits by former UNC athletes.