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NCAA discussing how it deals with academic fraud

By Sara Ganim CNN | 4/25/2014, 1:50 p.m.
Another proposal for change is surfacing at the NCAA.
Various file shots of the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on September 26, 2013. CNN photo.

Another proposal for change is surfacing at the NCAA.

The body that regulates athletics at the vast majority of U.S. colleges and universities is thinking about redefining academic fraud.

There has been some confusion in the last few years about exactly what the NCAA's responsibility is when it came to academic fraud on campus. So the organization's Academic Cabinet ordered a review, deciding that for an academic scandal to lead to violations there needs to be both a nexus to a school's athletics department, and it needs to affect the eligibility of athletes.

"Now that it's clarified, do we like it?" said Carolyn Callahan, who chairs the 23-member Academic Cabinet. "How much institutional autonomy do we want? How much oversight do we want?"

Callahan said those questions were brought to the committee long before a firestorm of public pressure on the NCAA to revisit its decision not to sanction the University of North Carolina over its "paper class" scandal, saying it involved more students than just athletes.

As CNN first reported, congressional hearings could be the upshot of inaction by the NCAA on the UNC scandal; U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-California, is sending a letter to NCAA President Mark Emmert demanding answers about the NCAA's handling of it. Two years ago, UNC's internal investigation uncovered that several athletes were enrolled in classes where little or no work was required. The North Carolina attorney general recently indicted a former professor who allegedly accepted money for teaching those "no-show" classes.

Cardenas, a member of the House oversight committee, told CNN he is prepared to issue subpoenas and call for a hearing if Emmert doesn't provide substantive answers to his letter.

Callahan said there have been some passionate discussions among the Academic Cabinet members the last few meetings. The next meeting is in June, and she said there is a possibility that during that meeting they will make recommendations to the NCAA leadership council, which meets again later in the summer.

"Everyone assumes because of the timing this is a UNC issue," Callahan said. "This came up first on our agenda way before the UNC case. Everything the NCAA does takes a long time. The cabinet only meets three times a year for a day and half, and that's not the only thing on the agenda.

"Certainly, all of us are aware of it, but that's not the impetus for the discussion, and it's not the only case we're talking about," she said.

The NCAA Legislative Council recently said a discussion of academic misconduct will "occur in the new governance structure" that would include new members to the board of directors and giving five major Division I conferences more power in making decisions affecting student-athletes.

Juggling too much?

But Gerald Gurney, a former compliance director who worked in collegiate athletics for 30 years, is skeptical there will be academic fraud changes.

"They are trying to divert attention from what I consider to be a most obvious case of outrageous academic fraud, to needing a redefinition of academic fraud," Gurney said.