Frat boys may have helped save UNC athletics from any NCAA sanctions over its academic scandal

University North Carolina Chapel Hill UNC Students FansGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesUNC fans cheer at a Tar Heels basketball game.

The NCAA announced on Friday that it “could not conclude” that UNC Chapel Hill violated academic rules after a years-long investigation into an academic scandal, saying the university will not be sanctioned.

Part of what may have saved UNC from punishment was an argument that certain benefits for student-athletes were also available for non-student-athletes.

The NCAA report said the existence of “paper courses” — which never met and only required one final paper — was widely known around the school.

“The panel cannot conclude that extra benefit violations occurred surrounding the offering or managing of the courses as alleged. The courses were generally available to the student body, and non-student-athletes took the courses,” according to the NCAA report.

“Based on the general availability and the lack of specific examples, the panel cannot conclude a systemic effort to impermissibly benefit student-athletes,” it said.

While most of the attention following the original scandal of widespread fake classes focused on the school’s student athletes, the 2014 report found more than 50% of the students enrolled in the so-called paper classes were non-athletes — with many being referred through the campus’ fraternity system.

According to investigator Kenneth Wainstein’s report, the “paper courses” were “hardly a secret” on campus and predominantly spread by word-of-mouth among undergraduates.

“As with any course that offers an easy path to a high grade, word of these classes got around,” the report states.

One of the largest referrers to these fake courses run by the African and Afro-American Studies department was UNC’s fraternity system. The investigators spoke to several fraternity members about the paper courses:

“[Two] fraternity members explained that they saw these classes as somewhat of a ‘loophole’ in Chapel Hill’s otherwise demanding curriculum, and they never conceived of these classes as being in any way tailored to athletes. In fact, they recalled that a number of their non-athlete fraternity members took so many AFAM classes that they inadvertently ended up with AFAM minors by the time they graduated.”

According to the Wainstein report, “Over the course of ten years, there were 729 enrollments in the paper classes by members of fraternities (and some sorority sisters).”

The report said fraternity members may have another incentive to take the courses besides a normal student desire for easy As.

At UNC — much like athletes need a certain minimum GPA to remain eligible to compete — each Greek house needs to achieve an overall minimum GPA among its members to maintain university recognition and stay on campus. The report notes that the investigators “understand that the need to meet these requirements played a role in the decision among fraternity members to take these classes.”

More than 3,100 students were enrolled in the “paper classes” over an 18-year period.

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