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After hearing, UNC now awaits NCAA ruling in academic case

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North Carolina has wrapped up a two-day hearing with an NCAA infractions committee panel that will decide whether the school faces penalties tied to its multi-year academic scandal.

Now the case goes into yet another holding pattern.

School officials spent much of Wednesday in a closed-door meeting with committee members in Nashville, Tennessee. They returned Thursday morning for a second session lasting about 4½ hours with the panel that will determine whether UNC faces penalties such as fines, probation or vacated wins and championships.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn confirmed the hearing was complete but both sides were mum afterward.

Osburn didn’t comment further because the panel must deliberate before issuing a ruling, which typically comes weeks to months after a hearing. UNC athletics spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school wouldn’t have any comments about the hearing either.

Getting through the hearing process was a major step toward resolution in a delay-filled case tied to irregular courses, though there’s still the potential for the case to linger beyond a ruling if UNC decides to appeal or pursue legal action. The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control.

The focus is independent study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The courses were misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades.

In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

The case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe of the football program that resulted in sanctions in March 2012. The NCAA reopened an investigation in summer 2014, filed charges in a May 2015, revised them in April 2016 and then again in December.

Most notably, the NCAA originally treated some of the academic issues as improper benefits by saying athletes received access to the courses and other assistance generally unavailable to non-athletes. The NCAA removed that charge in the second Notice of Allegations (NOA), then revamped and re-inserted it into the third NOA.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority and that the NCAA was overreaching in what should be an academic matter .

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

UNC chancellor Carol Folt, athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell attended both hearing days. Football coach Larry Fedora, who wasn’t at UNC at the time in question, attended Wednesday’s session.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in the broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor Jan Boxill providing improper assistance on assignments.

Boxill and Deborah Crowder, who is also charged individually in the case, attended Wednesday with their attorneys but didn’t return Thursday. Crowder is a former AFAM office administrator who enrolled students, distributed assignments and graded many of the papers in irregular courses.

The infractions panel is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

NCAA board of governors approves anti-discrimination process for event bids

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The NCAA board of governors adopted a new rule that all sites hosting or bidding on NCAA events that will require them to “demonstrate how they will provide an environment that is safe, healthy, and free of discrimination, plus safeguards the dignity of everyone involved in the event,” it was announced Wednesday.

The decision “follows the recent actions of legislatures in several states, which have passed laws allowing residents to refuse or provide services to some people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the NCAA’s release reads.

The new criteria is expected to be fully implemented during the current bidding process, the NCAA said.

North Carolina and Mississippi recently passed laws that have rolled back protections of the LBGT community. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently threatened to move the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte if the law does not change in North Carolina.

The NCAA had already barred sites that display the Confederate flag and from members hosting championship events that use “abusive and offensive” Native American imagery or nicknames.

“The higher education community is a diverse mix of people from different racial, ethnic, religious and sexual orientation backgrounds,” said Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University and chair of the Board of Governors, said in a statement. “So it is important that we assure that community – including our student-athletes and fans – will always enjoy the experience of competing and watching at NCAA championships without concerns of discrimination.”

The NCAA “considers the promotion of inclusiveness in race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity as a vital element to protecting the well-being of student-athletes, promoting diversity in hiring practices and creating a culture of fairness.”

Report: St. John’s freshman LoVett could be eligible this season

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When the NCAA declared St. John’s freshman Marcus LoVett Jr. a partial qualifier last month, head coach Chris Mullin lost his lone true point guard for the 2015-16 season. However, according to a report the freshman may be able to take the floor this season for the Red Storm.

Wednesday it was reported by the New York Post that there’s a chance that LoVett could be cleared for competition at the end of the current semester. The school, LoVett and the NCAA Eligibility Center have maintained dialogue on the situation, which included the school advising LoVett and his family to consult with “appropriate legal counsel” when the initial ruling was made.

Per the report, should LoVett put together a good fall semester in the classroom he’d be able to join his teammates in game action beginning with the Red Storm’s game against Incarnate Word December 18.

Without LoVett the Red Storm have relied on fellow freshman Federico Mussini to run the point. Mussini, who’s playing more than 34 minutes per game, leads the team in scoring (14.4 ppg) and is second in assists (2.9 apg) but has tallied more assists (23) than turnovers (26) through the first eight games. Senior guard Felix Balamou currently leads the team with an average of 3.6 assists per game, with freshman Malik Ellison (2.5 apg) currently out with a foot injury.

Could new graduate student-athlete rules be on the horizon?

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With student-athletes who have completed their undergraduate degree with eligibility remaining being allowed to transfer without having to sit out a season, graduate students have become popular transfer candidates in recent years. But with that rise in transfers has come some skepticism, with some coaches complaining of other programs reaching out to players before they’re officially able to transfer and others wondering just how much progress is being made towards a masters degree.

Friday the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Academics released its recommendations on how to address the issues surrounding graduate student-athletes, with an eye towards making sure that these athletes are making true progress towards a postgraduate degree.

Among the recommendations are requiring graduate student-athletes to declare a specific graduate degree program, and requiring that they complete at least six credit hours per semester. At present time grad student-athletes aren’t required to declare which degree they’re seeking or a major, and they only have to be enrolled in six credit hours as opposed to completing said hours.

According to the release only 35 percent of men’s basketball players making use of the program have completed their postgraduate degree, slightly lower than the 38 percent of football players who do so.

One suggestion made by some coaches in the past is that graduate students be made to sit out the year in residency required of undergraduate transfers, and that may very well occur in the future. But based upon the NCAA’s announcement the course of action at this point is to make sure those who do transfer as grad students are doing so without pushing the academic portion of the process to the back burner.

Will these recommendations, if approved, change anything? I’m not sure, but it may lead to more of those athletes simply deciding to move on with their bachelor’s degree in hand as opposed to sticking around.

Bill Self on Cheick Diallo: ‘It may be a couple of more weeks’

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Cheick Diallo is currently practicing with Kansas, but his eligibility still remains in question.

On Monday, Kansas head coach Bill Self appeared on “The Border Patrol” on WHB-AM 810 and was asked to update the status of his freshman big man.

“He’s been cleared to practice,” Self told hosts Steven St. John and Nate Bukaty. “(His status) is depending on what they find throughout from the information we submit to them whenever we get it all together.

“A lot of people think, ‘Well, why wouldn’t it all be together?’ Well there’s a lot of reasons why. It’s because they told us recently some things that they just wanted. Instead of just throwing it to them piece by piece, they requested we to just submit it all together, so it may be a couple of more weeks before we’re able to submit everything when you’re talking about getting information from schools in Mali and everything like that.

“But we hope in two weeks, maybe three weeks, before we have a definite answer. But right now, Cheick is like everybody else. He’s practicing.”

Diallo, a 6-foot-9 forward from Mali is allowed to practice with the Jayhawks, but has been waiting to be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center despite enrolling in classes over the summer and earning six credits. Self anticipated this would be a long process, but has remained confident Diallo, the top-5 recruit in Class of 2015, will eventually be cleared to play this season.

For three years, Diallo attended Our Savior New American School in Centereach, New York, which is currently under NCAA review. In September, Pitt freshman Damon Wilson, Diallo’s teammate at OSNA, was cleared to play.

Kansas opens the season on Nov. 13 against Northern Colorado.

SMU basketball hears from NCAA on Tuesday

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SMU basketball will hear from the NCAA on Tuesday about possible sanctions, NBCSports.com has learned. The issue with men’s basketball stems from former SMU assistant coach Ulric Maligi and a basketball administrator helping guard Keith Frazier with course work. A sophomore last season, Frazier was ruled academically ineligible in January and sat out the rest of the 2014-15 season.

Frazier is academically eligible and back with the team and the Mustangs and head coach Larry Brown will know their fate on Tuesday.

SMU officials met with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in June and responded to a list of allegations. The concern is if Brown knew about Maligi and the secretary helping Frazier. When a decision is made, SMU can appeal or accept the findings. If the NCAA finds a lack of control on Brown, then the head coach could be given a game penalty.

The NCAA investigation looming over SMU has certainly hurt them in recruiting already as LaGerald Vick decommitted and ended up at Kansas for this season. It’s also led to only one commitment in the Class of 2016 for SMU so far.