North Carolina is challenging the NCAA's jurisdiction to pursue charges in the school's long-running academic fraud scandal and is holding off on self-imposed penalties.
The school on Tuesday publicly released its response to five potentially top-level NCAA charges, which include lack of institutional control. UNC acknowledged problems tied to irregular courses in a department popular with athletes but also available to non-athletes on the Chapel Hill campus, though it argued that its accreditation agency — not the NCAA — was the proper authority to handle such a matter.
That agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, sanctioned the school with a year of probation that expired in June.
UNC made several procedural arguments before responding to each charge outlined in a Notice of Allegations (NOA) sent in April. Its response is a procedural step that will eventually lead to a hearing followed by a ruling in a case likely to push into 2017.
The NCAA enforcement staff now has 60 days to respond.
"We had classes that didn't meet our rigor," UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said in a teleconference with reporters, "but whether or not that's a violation of a bylaw is what we're asking the Committee on Infractions to determine."
None of the charges was tied solely to the existence of the problematic classes in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. UNC's response cites an internal NCAA report from March 2013 that stated as much, but adds that the document wasn't provided to school officials.
Rather, the response states, UNC representatives discovered it "by happenstance" after traveling to NCAA headquarters to review case files in person in July 2015.
The multiyear case grew as an offshoot of a 2010 probe into the football program. UNC's response referenced that earlier case, noting the NCAA investigated whether academic counselors had provided improper assistance to athletes before issuing sanctions in March 2012.
UNC argued that a ruling is "final, binding and conclusive" according to NCAA bylaws, so the March 2012 sanctions should have precluded later charges that could have been resolved previously. That points to a current charge against former faculty chairwoman and women's basketball academic adviser Jan Boxill for providing improper assistance and suggesting a grade in a course on at least one occasion between February 2003 and July 2010.
The school also cited an expired four-year statute of limitations.
UNC "raises these jurisdictional and procedural issues not to excuse the underlying conduct or to escape accountability for those events before its accreditor or elsewhere," the response states, "but rather to ensure mutual adherence to the rules that govern NCAA enforcement actions, including this one."
As a result, the "jurisdictional and procedural issues make it difficult to assign appropriate penalties for the alleged violations," the response states.
Individually, UNC disputed the institutional-control charge. It accepted that Boxill provided improper assistance in 15 of 18 cited instances, though it disagreed that she engaged in unethical conduct and suggested the charge be treated as a less-severe Level III case instead of a Level I.
It also accepted that it failed to properly monitor Boxill as part of a broader oversight charge that spanned from fall 2005 to summer 2011, but suggested it be a Level II violation.
Randall Roden, a Raleigh-based attorney representing Boxill, provided The Associated Press with a copy of Boxill's separate response. It denies wrongdoing in the opening sentence.
"It did not happen," it states. "Not one of the allegations against Jan Boxill is true."
The case centers on independent study-style AFAM courses requiring a research paper or two while offering GPA-boosting grades. Many were misidentified as lecture courses that didn't meet.
A 2014 review by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports making up roughly half the enrollments.