The NCAA is taking another look into academic misconduct at North Carolina after an investigation uncovered new information.
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said Monday the school has received "a verbal notice of inquiry" that the NCAA will reopen its 2011 investigation in a case that began as an offshoot of a 2010 probe into the football program.
"The NCAA has determined that additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might now be willing to speak with the enforcement staff," Cunningham said in a statement.
Investigations have uncovered fraud in a department with classes featuring significant athlete enrollments, including lecture classes that did not meet and were treated as independent studies requiring only a research paper at semester's end. Former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein is conducting an independent probe into the problems in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department, and has met with two key figures — former chairman Julius Nyang'oro and retired administrator Deborah Crowder — who had not cooperated with earlier school investigations.
Cunningham said Wainstein was instructed to share information he learned with the NCAA. Wainstein said he and colleague Joseph Jay have met with NCAA officials to do that.
"We will continue to provide the NCAA with any relevant information that we learn during the remainder of our investigation," Wainstein said in a statement. "... The shared information is subject to the NCAA's confidentiality rules, and it will not be disclosed to university personnel or anyone else until we issue our public report."
A 2012 investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found problems, including unauthorized grade changes, in the department stretching back to the 1990s while directing blame to Nyang'oro and Crowder. Ex-UNC learning specialist Mary Willingham has said the "paper classes" were used to help keep athletes eligible.
Nyang'oro was indicted on a felony fraud count in December, charged with being paid $12,000 to teach a summer 2011 lecture course that did not meet and was treated as an independent study filled with football players. Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall said last week he is considering dropping that charge because Nyang'oro has cooperated with Wainstein and the school recovered the money.
The NCAA and the school jointly investigated the AFAM problems in fall 2011 during the NCAA's probe of violations within the football program, which led to sanctions in March 2012.
That August, the school said the NCAA had found no rules violations. The NCAA later told UNC officials that it was not considering additional investigation or charges connected to the AFAM department, according to September 2013 email exchange obtained through a public-records request.
But the NCAA's statement Monday said its enforcement staff "is exploring this new information to ensure an exhaustive investigation is conducted based on all available information."
The announcement comes less than a month after former men's basketball player Rashad McCants — a top player on the 2005 NCAA championship team — told ESPN's "Outside the Lines" that he took several no-show classes in the department and that coach Roy Williams was aware of them. He also said tutors wrote research papers for him.
Williams and the remaining members of that team have denied involvement in academic wrongdoing.
Martin's probe began shortly after an incomplete transcript for former football star Julius Peppers surfaced on the university's website. It showed Peppers, who played from 1999-2001, made some of his highest grades in the AFAM department where he was majoring, which could've helped ensure his eligibility for competition.
The NCAA originally penalized the football program with a one-year bowl ban, scholarship reductions and probation for improper benefits and academic misconduct violations, the latter focused on a tutor providing too much assistance on papers to players.
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