After at least two years of near silence on the emerging and ongoing scandal at UNC in regards to admitting athletes and fraudulently keeping them eligible academically, the NCAA will soon have to reckon with Congress:
A U.S. congressman is questioning whether the NCAA failed to hold the University of North Carolina accountable during a 2012 academic fraud investigation and is demanding answers from NCAA brass.
If he doesn’t get them, he’ll call for congressional hearings and subpoena NCAA President Mark Emmert, Rep. Tony Cardenas told CNN.
The California Democrat is referring to a probe in which the National Collegiate Athletic Association investigated UNC’s system of “paper classes” — independent studies requiring little work and no attendance. Athletes were able to get easy “A”s without actually going to class.
The NCAA declined to sanction the university, saying the scandal was academic in nature, not athletic.
Only those who look at the world through light-blue tinted glasses accept that reasoning at face value. Oh, and those in Indianapolis at the NCAA, of course. They have chosen to ignore the facts that have been emerging at a steady pace over the past few years, refused to investigate and used the excuse that since a few non-athletes were involved in the questionable classes and programs that it was a purely academic issue outside of their purview as a college sports’ governing body.
That stance is the polar opposite of the one the NCAA took in 2009, when it punished Florida State for major violations concerning academic fraud. The NCAA stripped scholarships from 10 different FSU teams and forced them to vacate all of the victories in 2006 and 2007 — including several of legendary coach Bobby Bowden’s football wins, which cost him the record of college football’s all-time winningest coach.
“Academic fraud is among the most egregious of NCAA violations,” the NCAA infractions report said of Florida State.
“The [violations] committee was concerned with the large number of student-athletes involved in the fraud and especially by the fact that individuals within the institution’s Athletic Academic Support Services unit were involved. The committee was further troubled by the fact that there were warning signs indicating that academic improprieties were taking place, but these warning signs were, for the most part, ignored.” And with that, FSU team wins and individual records were expunged from the record.
Now, only five years later, the NCAA seems to be ignoring a relatively parallel case, despite strong evidence of widespread academic fraud at the University of North Carolina. Apparently, despite the similarities, UNC’s issues are not even worthy of investigation.
For its part, UNC has run a clumsy public relations campaign of denials, obfuscation and character assassination of its own staff, while simultaneously denying to release public records and hiding behind the protections of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) whenever possible — often under flimsy rationale. They fought in court to prevent the release of some public records, despite the North Carolina statute requiring them to do so, and when they do respond to legitimate requests, the University has dragged its feet and taken months and some say years to meet their obligations.
To clear their name UNC points to so-called “independent” “investigations” such as the one ran by former North Carolina governor Jim Martin — a former employee and current political associate of multi-million dollar UNC athletics donor and NC Republican Party financier Art Pope. Ironically, it was the John W. Pope Foundation, named for Art Pope’s father, that gave $3 Million in 2011 to expand UNC’s academic center for student athletes. That hasn’t stopped UNC from claiming that Martin was completely independent while he conducted his review, despite the obvious and glaring conflicts of interest that he came to Chapel Hill with. At best, Martin’s report was a whitewash; at worst, it was the best kind of lie: it told part of the truth but not the whole truth, especially the truly devastating part of the whole truth. At the end of the day, it’s fair to say that the next truly independent investigation of UNC athletics will also be the first.
As far as the state government of NC is concerned there has been little if any appetite in the state legislature to investigate the largest athletics scandal at its ostensible flagship university in modern times, and one second only in UNC history to the 1961 Point Shaving scandal that ousted then UNC head basketball coach Frank McGuire. Now comes the US Congress, and with it, the power to perhaps finally expose all of the facts for what they are, rather than having them filtered through a university desperately trying to preserve its image and its perhaps ill-gotten championships.
It is said that sunshine is the strongest disinfectant, meaning that bringing all of the relevant facts to light is the best way to solve problems. Since UNC, the state government of North Carolina and the NCAA don’t want to let taxpayers know the full truth of what is happening at a multi-billion dollar public university that their hard earned tax moneys help fund, perhaps Congress can. And Congress can hardly be refused:
Congress can compel the production of documents and sworn testimony from almost anyone at almost any time. And unlike the judicial process overseen by the courts, the congressional system offers relatively few procedural protections for those individuals or companies who find themselves subject to, what founder and early Supreme Court Justice James Wilson called, “the grand inquest of the state.”
As an independent and coequal branch of government, Congress’s investigative power is largely unchecked by the courts, as a matter of constitutional design. Thus, the true limitations upon Congress’s authority are pragmatic and based upon institutional and political power dynamics.
In other words, if the US Congress comes calling, you had better answer in full or risk their wrath. That wrath can mean imprisonment, and for UNC and the NCAA, they may well soon find themselves in deep water indeed if they try to con Congress with their refusal to come out with the whole truth once and for all.