Jay Bilas: NCAA breaking rules in UNC athletics scandal case

Jay Bilas says the NCAA is so determined to punish North Carolina that it’s breaking its own rules to do so.

Bilas – a former Duke basketball player who now works with ESPN – said there’s never been a situation like the one at UNC, where university officials allegedly used fraudulent classes to keep players eligible. But Bilas thinks the NCAA has stepped out of line.

“They’re breaking their own rules to try to punish North Carolina because they don’t like this …” said Bilas, who’s hosting a basketball camp this weekend in Charlotte. “You can’t just violate the rules because you don’t like something.”

No committee has ever done what this committee has done in prosecuting the case.

Jay Bilas, on UNC case

The NCAA has spent years trying to prosecute the UNC case, arguing that the university violated the tenets of academic integrity. But the university has fought back, claiming the NCAA has no business meddling in academic matters.

NCAA rules intentionally don’t cover academic matters like UNC’s, Bilas said, because university presidents don’t want the NCAA to govern their classrooms. But a limited rulebook doesn’t excuse unlimited jurisdiction.

“A rules-based organization cannot break its own rules to get the result that it wants,” Bilas said.

Bilas said the NCAA’s committee on infractions has taken unprecedented actions in the UNC case, overriding its own rules and demonstrating conflicts of interest along the way.

“They’ve shown themselves as wanting to do anything they can to achieve a certain result,” he said. “No committee has ever done what this committee has done in prosecuting the case.”

On Thursday, the NCAA punished the Louisville men’s basketball team for “serious violations” that included arranging striptease dances and sexual acts for prospects. As a result, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino will be suspended the first five ACC games of 2017-18 and the team will likely vacate all games from December 2010 to July 2014 – including its 2013 national championship victory.

Unlike in the UNC case, Bilas saw no issue with the NCAA’s jurisdiction in the Louisville matter. While Bilas said the immoral nature of the violations might have influenced the NCAA’s harsh punishments, the case still fell within the NCAA’s purview.

“As seedy as the underlying issue is, it’s an extra benefits case,” he said.

That’s not the case at North Carolina, Bilas says, where academic irregularities can’t be considered as extra benefits because the classes were available to the general student body. The NCAA tried to classify UNC’s classes as “impermissible benefits” in its first notice of allegations sent to UNC in 2015, but that claim disappeared in its second notice. In the most recent notice, the NCAA accused UNC of violating “extra-benefit legislation,” something Bilas says doesn’t apply.

And the university can’t be accused of committing academic fraud, according to Bilas, because the NCAA’s own definition of academic fraud doesn’t apply to UNC’s case.

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“Academic fraud, to the NCAA, is a player cheating the school,” Bilas said. “It is not the school’s curriculum.”

I don’t think any of this bodes well for North Carolina.

Jay Bilas, on the NCAA’s aggressive prosecution of the UNC case and the penalties levied against Louisville

Bilas said he doesn’t see any parallels between the Louisville case and what happened at UNC, and he thinks the NCAA’s aggressive prosecution of North Carolina’s case is a more accurate measure of potential sanctions than any penalties levied on Louisville. But Bilas admitted the NCAA is vulnerable to public opinion – and to many, Thursday’s ruling sets the stage for harsh sanctions at UNC.

“I don’t think any of this bodes well for North Carolina,” he said.

Should the NCAA heavily penalize UNC, Bilas thinks the university would be justified in taking legal action. Federal courts typically shy away from relitigating cases like this one, but Bilas said a judge might step in if the NCAA doesn’t follow its own rules.

Jay Bilas said the committee on infractions isn’t known for its consistency or reasonable approaches to previous cases.

And he says an appeal would favor UNC.

“I think they would win in federal court,” he said.

Bilas said the committee on infractions isn’t known for its consistency or reasonable approaches to previous cases, so he knows better than to predict what the ruling might be in the UNC case. He’s seen ridiculous results in the past, and he wouldn’t be surprised to see one again.

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“I think they’ve made their minds up already, but I could be proven wrong there,” Bilas said. “We’ll wait to see what happens.”