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Independent UNC report released; coaches/players not blamed in probe

The report on alleged academic fraud at UNC does not come down hard on the athletic department. (Getty Images)

If Myck Kabongo’s reportedly season-long suspension is the primary off-court topic in college basketball Thursday, this next item is only a sliver beneath it.

The moment many in and around the North Carolina campus have been waiting for came Thursday when former governor of the state James Martin released his findings from an independent investigation into the school. The probe related to allegations of academic wrongdoing and fraud, a story that became more exposed and widespread in the last six months.

Most recently, a whistleblower went public on the claims, backing them up and giving detailed, first-person accounts. But Martin’s report doesn’t come off nearly as harsh; in fact, it absolves almost entirely the actions of any player or coach in any athletic program at the school.

The report is linked here in PDF form (a heads-up: it’s 74 pages long, so pick your spots). Martin and his team of interviewers/investigators could not confirm any school counselors “colluded” with teachers in an effort to help students (read: players) improve their grades. They did discover that irregularities within the Department of African and Afro-American Studies date back to 1994, as previously reported by the Raleigh News Observer. In total, 216 courses were found to have “proven or potential” problems.

North Carolina has conducted internal investigations that questionable classes between 1997 and 2011. In a release from last May, the school deduced that problematic classes dated back into the ’90s as well.

Martin’s report primarily puts the bad actions on now-departed professor Julius Nyang’oro and his retired, former assistant, Deborah Crowder.

Two stand-out passages from Martin’s report:

  • In the case of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, there is evidence that certain ASPSA employees were aware that certain courses within the Department were so-called “Term Paper Courses,” and that lecture courses were being taught in an independent study format. When these concerns were raised, the Faculty Athletic Committee stated that it was incumbent upon each instructor of record to determine how to teach his/her own course and that it was therefore unnecessary for ASPSA personnel to question the instructional methods used.
  • Based on our work, we conclude that this matter was truly academic in nature and not an athletic scandal as originally speculated, and that the identified academic misconduct and anomalies were isolated to the Department of African and African-American Studies. We appreciate the cooperation and unrestricted access by the University afforded to the review team in the conduct of this project.

The report could definitely bring upon some criticism. Consider:

That’s a softball to anyone who’s attacked UNC over this saga in the last year. Martin is absolving coaches of being responsible for their players’ actions in the classroom. He’s also saying players’ academic performance and/or the propensity to cheat/get better grades in easier classes should be viewed through the lens of a student, not an athlete on scholarship.

Meanwhile, the NCAA has prevented 10 teams from playing in the 2013 postseason due to deficient performance in the classroom.

Martin’s report closes one chapter on this story, but as we’ve previously noted, UNC’s internal investigation and partnership with the NCAA is not over. As for what NCAA president Mark Emmert might do, we still don’t know. Emmert previously told CBSSports.com that UNC could very well face punishment if some of the allegations turned out to be true. Does Martin’s report, which shifts blame away from the athletic department, change that?

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