NCAA: North Carolina's procedural arguments 'without merit'

The NCAA says the University of North Carolina's argument that the governing body lacks jurisdiction in the school's multiyear academic fraud scandal is "without merit."

In a Sept. 19 filing released by the school Tuesday, the NCAA enforcement staff pushed back against the school's procedural arguments in response to five serious charges by saying all the arguments lacked merit. UNC had argued that its accreditation agency -- which put the school on a year of probation that expired over the summer -- was the proper authority to handle such a matter instead of college sports' governing body.

UNC also argued that there was an expired four-year statute of limitations and that a March 2012 ruling in an earlier case should have precluded some of the current charges.

In addition, the school said some material from an outside investigator's report into academic irregularities on the Chapel Hill campus shouldn't be used because interviews weren't performed to NCAA protocols.

"Indeed, its response rests almost entirely on these procedural issues and touches only minimally on the underlying substantive facts," the enforcement staff's reply states.

After noting that many of the procedural issues had been addressed with the school previously, the documents states: "The parties explored each at length throughout this case and each is without merit."

North Carolina is scheduled to appear before an infractions committee panel in Indianapolis on Friday in what amounts to a pretrial hearing. The focus will be the procedural arguments and not the facts of whether violations occurred, including lack of institutional control.

The case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 inquiry into the football program. It centers on independent-study-style courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department requiring a research paper or two while offering GPA-boosting grades. Many were misidentified as lecture courses that didn't meet and featured significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports.

A 2014 investigation by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011.

Also Tuesday, UNC released correspondence between the school and NCAA ranging from summer 2014 through last week in the case. That included a letter from an attorney representing the school pointing out that the NCAA was aware of the key AFAM issues in 2011 during the earlier joint investigation, yet it didn't charge the school with additional violations before issuing its March 2012 sanctions against the football program.

"This was not a different case than what was investigated in 2010-11, decided in 2012, and revisited in 2013," the Oct. 19 letter from Richard J. Evrard states.

None of the NCAA charges is tied solely to the existence of the problem AFAM courses. Rather, they are focused on failures in oversight.

The timeline is likely to carry this case well into 2017, approaching seven years since NCAA investigators first arrived on campus in the original football case focused on improper benefits and academic misconduct. Friday's hearing comes exactly five years after UNC's hearing in the original football case.