Differences between NCAA’s rulings on Louisville, North Carolina

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One of the questions that I have been asked the most since news broke that the NCAA had upheld a ruling that Louisville would have to vacate four seasons worth of wins, including a trip to the Final Four and a National Title, was why what Louisville did was significantly worse than the two decades of academic fraud that had occurred at North Carolina.

UNC, if you’ve forgotten, was not punished at all by the NCAA for the scandal involving paper classes that helped keep football and basketball players eligible.

And the reason for that is really quite simple: The NCAA made an active decision that they would not be in the business of determining what does and what does not constitute academic fraud. In April of 2014, the Division I Legislative Council clarified academic misconduct rules, saying “academic standards and policies governing misconduct are the responsibility of individual schools and their accreditation body,” and that “the membership’s position that it is a school’s responsibility to decide whether or not misconduct involving current or future student-athletes or school staff has occurred.”

The thinking here makes sense.

The NCAA is not an organization that is designed to determine whether or classwork is legitimate. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of accrediting agencies. Those rules are bigger than the NCAA. What they couldn’t have predicted, however, was that a university as prominent and as well-respected as the University of North Carolina would a hit to their academic respectability to protect their athletic department. UNC said that the fraudulent classes weren’t, you know, fraudulent. That’s why the NCAA tried North Carolina as an extra benefits case.

Put another way, the Committee on Infractions for the UNC case could not determine that the “courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes,” because they weren’t. They were created by a rogue professor. The athletic department found out those classes existed. Student-athletes took advantage of a fake class the way the rest of the student body at-large did. The fake classes were not created specifically for those student-athletes.

That distinction is critical, because it represents the difference between the scandal falling under NCAA jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the agency tasked with accrediting the University of North Carolina as something other than a diploma mill.

With Louisville, there really was no debate about whether or not this was an NCAA issue. A member of a college basketball team’s coaching staff was providing student-athletes and prospective recruits, some of whom were under the age of 18, with lap dances and sexual favors that he paid for. That is the definition of extra benefits in the NCAA rulebook, and the egregiousness of what occurred — strippers, hookers, underage recruits, etc. — is why Louisville was hit so hard.

The NCAA is stupid and illogical and I hate so much about it, but I find it hard to fault them for the way either of these cases played out.