Death Penalty Called For Over UNC’s Academic Fraud Scandal

The president of a former rival school said the nuclear option should be in play

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Apr 11, 2017 at 12:07 PM ET

Only a few days after the North Carolina men’s basketball team staved off Gonzaga to win a national championship, the university president of a former conference rival suggested that the program’s days could be numbered due to the lingering fallout from its academic scandal.

Speaking at a University of Maryland senate meeting last week, school president Wallace Loh responded to a faculty member’s question about safeguarding his institution from the “corrupting influence of athletics” by going on an unsolicited digression into UNC’s problems, according to a News & Observer report.

“As president I sit over a number of dormant volcanoes,” Loh said, per the newspaper. “One of them is an athletic scandal. It blows up, it blows up the university, its reputation, it blows up the president.

“For the things that happened in North Carolina, it’s abysmal. I would think that this would lead to the implementation of the death penalty by the NCAA. But I’m not in charge of that.”

The NCAA’s third Notice of Allegations to UNC about the alleged fraud involving sham classes used to bolster athletes’ GPAs said the scheme lasted from 2002 to 2011 (and cost the school nearly $18 million in legal fees). It charges the school with multiple instances of “a severe breach of conduct.” UNC won two hoops titles in that span, and players from the 2005 team reportedly were among those who took the no-show classes. “Many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility,” the notice said.

A spokesman for Maryland, which was an ACC rival of UNC’s until 2014, quickly engaged in damage control, telling the News & Observer that Loh’s comments about UNC were “not a reflection of personal beliefs about the university or its leadership.”

The Tar Heels, needless to say, weren’t too pleased. Joel Curran, the vice chancellor of communications at UNC, wrote an email saying, “We were surprised that a sitting university president with no direct knowledge of our case would choose to offer such uninformed and highly speculative opinions. Clearly, Dr. Loh misunderstands the facts of the case, and how NCAA bylaws apply to those facts. We are now preparing our response to a third Notice of Allegations and suggest he read it fully once it has been submitted to the NCAA and made public.”

Whether Loh actually misunderstands the facts is debatable—the whole ordeal seems pretty bad—but what Loh really misunderstands is the benefit of such an absolute penalty. The football program had three head coaches from 2002 through 2011, none of whom are still at the university. Roy Williams has coached the basketball program for the majority, but not the entirety, of that time, and thus far there has been no specific allegation of his wrongdoing (although head coaches have far-reaching jurisdiction and presumed control over their programs).

Even an athlete still benefiting from a bogus class in the summer term of 2011, the apparent final offering of the grade-boosting credits, would have exhausted his or her eligibility by now. So who would a death-penalty sanction punish but athletes with no direct link to the alleged fraud. There should be consequences, of course—possible suspensions of employees, scholarship reductions, recruiting limitations, and the like are more palatable options—but killing off a sports team or two isn’t in anyone’s best interest.