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.