Academic Fraud Cases of 2015

UNC at Chapel Hill is one of the most publicized stories of academic fraud so far this year. (File/Picasa)

UNC at Chapel Hill is one of the most publicized stories of academic fraud so far this year. (File/Picasa)

If you don’t pass, then you don’t play. It’s one of the most fundamental rules in college sports, helping to ensure that student athletes work hard to maintain their scholarships and don’t skate by without focusing on their education. Unfortunately, the rules don’t always work out precisely the way they’re supposed to. And while there are undoubtedly many colleges which drive their athletes to be the best that they can be, there are others which subvert the rules through academic fraud.

This has been the case for years, and 2015 has been no exception. We’re only about halfway through the year right now, and there have already been three major investigations into college athletic programs that seem to have gone out of their way to disrespect the rules. Just how bad has academic fraud been this year? Well, let’s take a look at the major three stories and see just how badly the rules have been broken. We’ll also take a look at what the major consequences were for each school, and what the consequences might be in cases that haven’t quite wrapped up yet.

Syracuse University

Syracuse received some pretty harsh sanctions from the NCAA this year. (Syracuse University)

Syracuse received some pretty harsh sanctions from the NCAA this year. (Syracuse University)

Syracuse is the first school on our list, as their academic fraud case made headlines all the way back in March. The list of infractions was quite large, and involved both the basketball and football programs. It was discovered that the university’s history of academic fraud went back to at least 2001, and that ineligible students had played in both sports since at least 2004. Not only was the university found to have been guilty of wrongdoings from an academic standpoint, but even proper drug screening protocols had apparently not been met. In other words, they more or less asserted no control over their student athletes whatsoever.

The football team was found to have allowed ineligible students to play in three different seasons, from 2004 to 2006. Any wins involving the aforementioned students were therefore vacated. The basketball team, however, was found to be guilty of far more infractions. Not only did they allow ineligible students to play from 2004 to 2007, but there was another period ranging from 2010 to 2012. Again, all of these wins were vacated. In fact, Coach Jim Boeheim was forced to vacate 108 wins in total. This is the highest number of wins that has ever been removed from a school’s record as punishment for academic fraud.

While the loss of 108 wins is unfortunate, it is not by far the only punishment suffered by Syracuse as a result of the NCAA’s investigation. The school also lost a dozen scholarships, and Boeheim will not be allowed to participate in the first nine ACC games of the season. There was also an agreement made between the university and the NCAA that the school would sit out on the postseason. This means that they will not be taking place in the ACC tournament this year.

The NCAA takes academic fraud very seriously, and stated as much when they were writing out their decision. They wrote: “Improper institutional involvement and influence in a student’s academic work in order to gain or maintain eligibility is a violation of NCAA rules and a violation of the most fundamental core values of the NCAA and higher education.” They continued, charging the university with having “clearly misplaced institutional priorities.” Boeheim, along with the school’s chancellor, Kent Syverud, took the charges seriously but also took issue with aspects of the NCAA’s punishments. They did not feel as if Boeheim was as guilty of wrongdoings as he was made out to be.

Boeheim had expressed intentions to appeal some of the decisions made by the NCAA. Since Syracuse cooperated with the NCAA’s eight-year investigation, which the university felt could have been much more expeditious, they wanted to appeal certain sanctions (such as Boehim’s suspension). They also disagreed with other parts of the NCAA’s report, which totaled 94 pages in length. Not only did the report allege academic fraud and noncompliance with drug testing protocols, but also found issues with the school’s booster and suggested that both basketball players and football players at the school had received money.

Following the close of the investigation in October of last year and the announcement of the university’s sanctions by the NCAA, athletic director Daryl Gross resigned from his position with the university. Pete Sala took over for a while back in March, but Gross is now receiving a less temporary replacement in the form of Mark Coyle. Having worked at Boise State since 2011, and the University of Kentucky prior to that, Coyle is fairly knowledgeable about the position. He has a great reputation, as well as a lot of respect for Syracuse, so he should be a good fit for their program and should ultimately be able to help them recover a bit from the investigation.

University of North Carolina

One of the more recent cases of academic fraud involves UNC at Chapel Hill. The NCAA’s investigation showed that the university’s infractions date back as many as eighteen years. Documentation in excess of seven hundred pages indicates that the university could be found guilty of at least five separate infractions. One of the more tangible infractions revolves around two students who were not reported when it was discovered that they had plagiarized one of their papers for a class. While the students were told they must redo the paper within a week, professor Deborah Crowder was still supposed to have reported the incident.

But Crowder is not the only UNC professor who is believed to be guilty of academic fraud. The investigation turned up other evidence as well, including emails between Crowder, Jan Boxill, and Julius Nyang’oro. These three professors discussed their own academic fraud through written correspondence. But reading over this documentation, the NCAA was able to discover that they had encouraged athletes to enroll in certain classes to better their grades. They were given certain benefits not available to other students, such as unfair extensions on papers and other assignments.

Many of the fake classes in which students were encouraged to enroll were within the African studies department. The evidence uncovered by the NCAA indicated that this particular style of academic fraud had occurred between 1993 and 2011, and that approximately fifty percent of the students in these classes were members of the school’s athletics programs. The nature of these fake classes is that, while students received grades for written papers, there were only one or two of these papers required in a given semester. The classes did not meet regularly for lectures.

Perhaps since this particular case of academic fraud does not directly involve the athletics programs, coaches are not receiving the same type of sanctions as Boeheim received for academic fraud at Syracuse. In fact, Roy Williams, head coach of UNC’s basketball team, just received a contract extension that will keep him in charge of the Tar Heels through 2020. Bubba Cunningham, director of the university’s athletic department, has stated that the school is lucky to have Williams on staff and that they are more than happy to keep him around for a few more years. The extension comes with a raise, not to mention revised performance bonuses.

As for the school’s punishments, it appears as if they are going to get off somewhat lightly. They are going to be put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Colleges for the duration of one year. If the demands of their probation are not met, then they run the risk of losing federal funding, including the funding they receive for student loans. Luckily for them, all they need to do is provide evidence that UNC-CH is complying with the seven operating principles which they have been found guilty of violating through academic fraud.

Given the eighteen-year period investigated, the university certainly could have come under harsher sanctions. As one of the oldest public universities in the nation, they have something of a responsibility to uphold the standards of academic integrity. However, one of the reasons they are not suffering a disruption to their funding is that Carol Folt, current chancellor of the university, has only been with them since 2013. Neither Folt nor her administrators were implicated in the cases of academic fraud at the university, and they have been working hard to clean up the mess with which they have been left.

University of Texas

Only one student involved has been named, but investigations are still underway. (University of Texas at Austin)

Only one student involved has been named, but investigations are still underway. (University of Texas at Austin)

Much like Syracuse, UT Austin actually reported allegations of academic fraud to the NCAA as soon as they caught wind of them. The cases of academic fraud being investigated took place while Rick Barnes was coaching the school’s basketball team, and his players were allegedly cheating in order to secure the grades they needed to be able to keep playing. One example is Martez Walker, who was caught using his phone to take pictures during a math test so that he could send photos of the questions to someone who knew the answers. Not only did Walker pass the class, but he went on to achieve a spot on the honor roll.

But any allegations of academic fraud involving Walker only account for a small part of the investigation. Over the course of nine years, starting in 2006, there have been at least three possible cases of academic fraud. The other two cases currently known actually involve students who received special attention prior to enrollment, when they were still in high school. It should be mentioned that, according to the school, none of these incidents occurred at the behest of Coach Barnes. His departure from the school back in March was based solely on coaching performance, rather than any suspicions of academic fraud.

Since the investigation is still ongoing, it cannot be said for certain that only three members of the Longhorns basketball team have been involved in academic fraud. The problem may, in fact, be much more widespread. The NCAA’s enforcement team is reportedly investigating around twenty different universities right now. They have said, however, that most of these universities (including UT Austin) have been rather forthcoming with the necessary evidence. The University of Texas has been in charge of their own investigation for the most part, which may help them when it comes time for them to receive sanctions.

Based on the sheer number of schools being investigated, it appears that the NCAA is starting to buckle down on issues of academic fraud. They value the academic integrity of all schools with athletic programs, and feel that it is important to hold schools accountable for the maintenance of moral and ethical principles which they have set forth. It is also important to them that student athletes receive equal treatment to that of students who are not involved with university athletics.

The story about UT Austin primarily broke due to a story by Brad Wolverton of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Well, make that two stories. One was about Walker, as well as a couple of other students. The other pertained more to the sale of online course answers, which actually implicated students at several universities across the United States. According to Wolverton, in an interview with NPR’s Arun Rath, the university was quick to respond to the information in his investigations. Not only have they investigated the issues themselves, but they have even brought in outside help to assist them in looking into things.

On the heels of their first round of investigations, UT Austin is reportedly pleased with how these instances of academic fraud have been handled by the instructors and other officials involved. Of course, once their investigation is complete and all information has been handed in, the university will have to hope that the NCAA is as pleased as they are with the results. Since they appear to be cracking down on academic fraud with increased frequency, they might be inclined to use UT Austin as an example if they aren’t happy with the findings.