In October, the University of North Carolina released an internal report detailing widespread academic fraud. The report, however, was not the end of trouble for UNC, or for the NCAA. In January of this year, two former UNC student athletes filed suit against both UNC and the NCAA related to the academic fraud.

The lawsuit, filed in state court but removed to federal court, alleges that the NCAA acted negligently because it knew of other instances of academic fraud and failed to implement adequate monitoring protocols to prevent instances of this fraud at member schools. The suit also alleges that the NCAA’s initial investigation of cheating at North Carolina was cursory and insufficient, and that the NCAA incorrectly concluded that the issue was “academic and not athletic.” The suit also takes aim at what it characterizes as the lowering of initial eligibility standards and increased focus on graduation, rather than the underlying quality of education received by student-athletes.

In response, the NCAA contends it has no legal responsibility “to ensure the academic integrity of the courses offered to student-athletes at its member institutions,” and, “is not subject to liability for the independent actions of its member institutions.” NCAA maintains that the suit misunderstands the role of the NCCA in regards to member schools, and overlooks the steps NCAA has taken to assist athletes in the classroom.

Some commentators have criticized this position as “double-talk.” In fact, the NCAA’s own language, which states, “[A]mateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA. Maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority.”  Still others, such as professor Rick Burton, argue that it is unrealistic to expect the NCAA to regulate or oversee the quality of each course, or professor, an athlete enrolls in at member institutions.

The NCAA, while defending this lawsuit, is working to develop a proposal to better define when they should investigate cases of cheating by student athletes and determining who should punish those students, while recognizing many schools desire for institutional autonomy. Though this proposal would likely help address future instances of academic fraud, it remains to be seen what legal responsibility, if any, the NCAA holds to ensure the academic integrity of member institutions.

Becca Loegering

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One Response to The NCAA and Academic Integrity

  1. Kevin Cavino says:

    It seems extremely contradictory that the NCAA would not have a legal responsibility to ensure the academic integrity of its member states. It is the regulatory body which creates and enforces the standards by which colleges must act with regard to student athletics. Seems as like it would be wildly unfair that it can do that, but then when shown to have failed in its mandate that it can be just turn around and claim it has no responsibility to ensure its regulations are adequate and that its members have acquiesced to its standards.