Why Thursday was a good day for Roy Williams and his program

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On Thursday, North Carolina officially released the Notice of Allegations that they had received from the NCAA on May 20th.

The damage? Five Level I violations, including a charge of lack of institutional control charge and broad and wide-ranging accusations of impermissible benefits.

(The NCAA essentially determined that the academic fraud happening at the university was a scholastic issue and that advisors guiding athletes into those so-called ‘paper classes’ — independent study courses that were turned into sham classes in order for students, both athletes and normal members of the student body, to receive easy grades — was a benefit that was not provided to regular students.)

It’s bad, but it’s not as bad as it could have been. The men’s basketball program — one of the NCAA’s cash cows and a flagship program for the association — was not named specifically in any violation. The academic advisor for the women’s basketball team, an ex-head of the African and Afro-American Studies department and his former student services advisor were targeted in three of the five Level I violations.

Roy Williams?

His named was mentioned a single time in the 59 page document, and that was to note when he was interviewed by the NCAA. One of his assistants, Steve Robinson, was also mentioned a single time to note when he was interviewed.

That doesn’t mean that Williams’ program avoided any link to the issue the Notice of Allegations raised. In a 732 page addendum to the report, there are a number of emails that connect the men’s basketball team to the ‘paper classes’. That includes emails that were sent by former men’s basketball academic advisor William Walden, who followed Williams to UNC from Kansas. Walden is no longer with the program. Those emails are cited as evidence for the impermissible benefits received by student-athletes.

The men’s basketball program will also assuredly be linked to the lack of institutional control charge.

What remains to be seen now is how the NCAA will dole out the punishments for these findings. That’s a process that will take months to play out. North Carolina has until August 20th to respond to the allegation and the NCAA will then have two months to address their response. All that has to happen before a date in front of the Committee of Infractions can even be set. At the very least, North Carolina will likely have to wait until at least January to find out just what kind of punishment they are going to receive.

Last week, before the Notice of Allegations was released, I wrote that the only way that the NCAA could truly get this punishment wrong would be to ban the Tar Heels from the 2016 postseason. I still believe that — simply put, I’m morally against a postseason ban once that season has begun — but after reading through these allegations, I find myself wondering if that punishment is still going to be on the table.

There’s no way to be able to predict what the NCAA is going to do here, mind you. This situation is, to my knowledge, unprecedented, not that the NCAA has ever followed precedent. But consider the following:

  • Nothing came of the accusations that Rashad McCants made on an episode of Outside The Lines, when he claimed that he took four sham courses in order to remain eligible during the 2005 national title run.
  • There were reportedly 3,100 students involved in the academic fraud, dating all the way back to 1993, half of them athletes. The NCAA declined to investigate, stating that this was an academic issue that athletics took advantage of, not a scheme concocted by anyone in the athletic department.
  • And, most importantly, while the independent Wainstein Report — a damning internal investigation into the academic fraud — found that this paper class scandal helped the men’s basketball program, nothing in the Notice of Allegations specifically tied the coaching staff to the violations. That may ruin Williams’ public image, but ask Kentucky head coach John Calipari how much being labeled a cheater matters in this business.

Does that sound like a situation where the NCAA is prepping to drop the proverbial hammer on North Carolina’s men’s basketball program?

It’s impossible to know.

But to me, is does not.

Which is why Thursday was a good day for the men’s basketball program and its fans and a bad day for the NCAA conspiracy theorists, because it’s pretty easy to assume the NCAA simply is not going to have the brass buttons lay the wood on one of the strongest brands in all of collegiate athletics.

As late, great Jerry Tarkanian probably would have said, “The NCAA is so mad at Roy Williams and North Carolina, they’ll probably slap two more years of probation on the UNC women’s team.”