Does Julius Peppers’ Transcript Put UNC in Danger of Severe Sanctions?Posted by Chris Johnson on August 16th, 2012
Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Thanks to the inadvertent release of what appears to be a prominent former student-athlete’s academic transcript, the breadth and time frame of the UNC academic scandal involving its football team has been brought into clearer focus. On Sunday night, a partial grade summary bearing the name Julius Peppers, now a six-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Chicago Bears, appeared on the University’s website. The transcript lists a GPA of 1.824, with nine of the 10 classes in which Peppers received a B– or higher – classes that helped preserve his eligibility– falling under the African and Afro-American studies program that’s long since marked a point of emphasis in the school’s investigation into possible academic injustices. In an internal probe that began in June 2010 following an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic wrongdoing within the football program, the school identified a four-year window (2007-11) during which former AFAM department head Julius Nyang’oro oversaw 54 impermissible classes, with violations ranging from forged grade reports to lack of teacher supervision to classes that, lo and behold, never actually existed. Peppers, who played reserve minutes on the Tar Heels’ 2000 Final Four team, majored in that tainted department. If the school confirms the validity of the released transcript, his participation on both the football and basketball teams in theory could be deemed retroactively invalid. More broadly, the transcript introduces the possibility that the academic misconduct within the AFAM department could have also involved the men’s basketball program and spans back more than a decade, preceding the initial four-year period highlighted by the school’s internal investigation.
What began as a textbook improper benefits case now has the look of something far more nefarious. The NCAA, operating under its standard procedure, appeared to have delivered a decisive blow in March by docking UNC 15 scholarships over three years and issuing a one-year postseason ban to the football team. The school’s internal investigation revealed that was just the tip of the iceberg, though its focus – mostly football-centric in nature – remained fixed on a four-year period in which academic advisers steered student athletes into those 54 bogus classes. If Peppers’ transcript is authentic, there’s good reason to suspect the academic fraud began long before the school began investigating it. Perhaps more jarring is the legitimate prospect that more players from the basketball program partook in the illegal behavior, which means that, depending on the specifics of who, when and how each player was involved, the Tar Heels’ four most recent Final Four appearances (2000, 2005, 2008, 2009) are well within bounds for any potential NCAA or self-imposed sanctions.
All of this calls into question the legitimacy of the school’s student-athlete ethical principles on a much larger scale than previously anticipated. If our deepest suspicions are confirmed, the scope of the crimes could be immense. Over the past decade(or longer), academic advisers knowingly held student-athletes’ hands as they skidded by on a bare-bones minimum course load with the sole purpose of upholding their eligibility for athletic performance. The academic experience served as a mere stepping stone for the larger purpose of staying on the playing field/court as student-athletes worked in cohorts with members of the school’s student-athlete advising department to create and exploit a loophole that for years was swept under the table as a legitimate academic major. UNC’s academic track record, faculty and administration was smeared at the expense of student-athletes cheapening the validity of its prescribed curriculum. It’s an institutionalized blueprint on how to game the system, and it existed from 2007 to 2011. This much we know. But when did the scamming begin?
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While UNC has yet to confirm the authenticity of Peppers’ transcript, the school on Monday released a statement saying federal privacy laws prevented discussion of personal student academic track records.
Student academic records should never be accessible to the public, and the university is investigating reports of what appears to be a former student transcript on the university’s website.
Though not a direct affirmation, the statement acknowledges that “student academic records” – which, ostensibly, describes what appeared on the school’s website late Sunday night – are not meant for public viewing. It’s an indirect admission of the school’s mistake. Further confirmation comes from Carl Carey, Jr., who worked as an academic adviser within the athletic department from 1998 to 2002. In a candid interview with the Charlotte News & Observer, Carey, who now works as Peppers’ agent, characterized some of the UNC student athletes he instructed as “scared” and “unprepared” to handle the school’s rigorous coursework. The possibility remains that students, scared and unprepared as they were, buckled down, hit the books and worked with people like Carey and Nyang’oro in a totally lawful and respectable way to earn high marks in AFAM classes, and thus preserve their eligibility by completing real, actual schoolwork. But from the looks of it, UNC’s student-athlete advising department encouraged the sort of counseling that transcends the typical tutor-pupil relationship and crosses over into dangerous, punishable territory. This is nothing new: The NCAA’s investigation and subsequent sanctions, along with addressing connections with sports agents and a failure to monitor players, revealed the presence of academic impropriety within the football program. Peppers’ involvement calls into question the perceived innocence of the basketball team, which has long been revered within the industry as a paradigm of academic and competitive virtue.
If it was just Peppers, the basketball team might walk away largely unscathed. His involvement can be explained away as a rogue dual-sport athlete seeking assistance in extenuating circumstances. The school’s investigation – which revealed that 58 percent of all enrollees in the 54 suspect classes from 2007-11 were student athletes – coupled with a N & O report stating “basketball players had also enrolled” and that “in two of the classes, the sole enrollee was a basketball player” provides strong evidence suggesting Peppers had company from his hardwood brethren in cheating the academic system. At this early stage, it’s difficult to forecast just how severe the repercussions — from the NCAA, the school or some combination therein — will be, or how long UNC will continue to cloak its wrongdoings with perfunctory investigative proceedings. What’s clear is that both the men’s basketball program may soon find itself on the NCAA chopping block for what may turn out to be a large-scale swindling of the organization’s enforced academic protocols.