Why isn't the NCAA stepping in on AFAM?

As part of our week-long series on academics and athletics, ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil and I take a look at the academic scandal at North Carolina involving the Afro and African-American Studies department -- and why the NCAA has not stepped in.

As detailed in my story, it’s been a frustrating time for new UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham, who is trying to move the program forward even as the dialogue about how to balance academics and athletics lingers.

In case you’ve missed the basics:

Five months ago, the NCAA imposed a one-year postseason ban and scholarship reductions on UNC's football program as penalty for improper benefits and academic misconduct involving a tutor. That was on top of the school’s self-imposed penalties, which included 16 vacated wins, probation, the firing of football coach Butch Davis, and the resignation of athletics director Dick Baddour after a 2010 season that saw 14 players miss at least one game.

But as an offshoot of that investigation, a UNC internal probe found that 54 AFAM classes were either “abberant” or “irregularly” taught from summer 2007 to summer 2011. That included unauthorized grade changes, forged faculty signatures on grade rolls, and limited or no class time.

UNC, which issued its report on the AFAM probe in May, says no student received a grade without submitting written work. But more than 50 percent of the students in those suspect classes were athletes. As first reported by The (Raleigh) News & Observer, one class last summer had an enrollment of 19 -- 18 football players and one former football player.

Then late last month, a faculty committee looking into the scandal issued a new report stating that academic counselors assigned to the athletes may have pushed them into those classes.

Because the classes also included non-athletes, and the suspect nature of the courses stems from the AFAM, and not athletics, department, the problem has been deemed thus far an “institutional” issue -- meaning it doesn’t look as if the NCAA will investigate.

In her column, though, O’Neil says that decision is as baloney as those suspect AFAM courses. She writes:

The NCAA has no problem telling high schools -- where it has zero jurisdiction -- what quantifies as a core course and what doesn't. It has no problem telling high school athletes whether their coursework is legit enough to pass the NCAA eligibility smell test or instead is subject to review.

Yet when it comes to the legitimacy of classwork on a college campus, where technically the NC(as in collegiate)AA has some sway, it lets the individual institutions police themselves.

That is not only hypocritical; it is illogical.

We try to answer some questions in these stories, from who is still investigating, to how this case compares to others, to why the NCAA likely isn't taking a stronger look, to what basketball coach Roy Williams has to say (3 percent of the enrollments in the suspect classes were his players), to what happens next.

Other questions? Comments? Let us know.

Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.