On Monday, the University of North Carolina finally received an updated Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, which cited five violations made by the university.
This is a decision that college sports followers have been waiting on for a while. Syracuse fans, in particular, have been paying attention because we are eager to compare and contrast the punishment UNC receives for the violations they committed with Syracuse's own NCAA sanctions.
Well, Syracuse fans are likely a combination of disappointed and angry after seeing what the Notice of Allegations cited.
A little over a year ago, the NCAA hit Syracuse with sanctions that punished the Orange for a variety of violations they committed, the most serious of which involved impermissible academic assistance being given in an attempt to keep Fab Melo eligible.
Meanwhile, down in Chapel Hill, UNC spent the better part of the last two decades offering courses in their African-American studies department that were considered substandard because they involved little-to-no work, little-to-no attendance and were taken by athletes at disproportionate rates.
Now, most observers will agree that the violations committed by North Carolina are significantly worse than those committed by Syracuse.
However, there appears to be one key difference that tips the scales in favor of North Carolina: an apparent lack of direct involvement by athletic department officials.
Syracuse was found to have multiple members of their athletic department directly involved in the violations they committed, including Jeff Cornish (booster) and Stan Kissel (director of basketball operations), but the same is apparently not true at UNC. While the Notice of Allegations sent on Monday does not provide any guarantees of their punishment, it seems that this difference may lead to leniency on the part of the NCAA in the Tar Heels' case.
Leniency can already be found in the difference between yesterday's Notice of Allegations and the original one that was sent to North Carolina last May. In the original notice, the term "impermissible benefits" was used in regards to the African-American studies courses that the athletes were taking. However, the updated notice removed the words "impermissible benefits" and instead cited general misconduct.
Additionally, while the original notice specifically mentioned athletes from the football and men's basketball teams, the updated notice has removed any specific mention to either team or their athletes. Can this be seen as the NCAA allowing the two biggest sports at one of their leading universities to escape with limited or no punishment? Most people outside of Chapel Hill will surely think so.
Roy Williams is likely to be another key beneficiary of the lack of direct athletic department involvement found in the notice. The NCAA did not mention him directly, or even make any note of the concept of "head coach responsibility" in the document.
There was a single person connected with the athletic department who was specifically mentioned in UNC's notice: Jan Boxill, a women's basketball academic counselor. She was found to have performed various amount of academic work for players to a much greater degree than what was found at Syracuse. This charge appears to be the same "impermissible academic assistance" that was connected to Fab Melo. While the football and men's basketball teams escaped specific mention, the women's basketball program looks like they could be in some trouble.
North Carolina has 90 days to respond to the Notice of Allegations. After that, the NCAA will have 60 days to respond to the response. So, UNC isn't likely to go before the Committee on Infractions until the fall, meaning that it might actually be 2017 before the actual sanctions are handed down. I guess we can add "time wasting" to the list of questionable behavior exhibited by the NCAA.
In the meantime, Monday's news only served to bring us one step closer to what Syracuse fans have feared all along: that the Tar Heels would escape their scandal relatively unharmed, especially when compared with Syracuse.
Nothing will be official for a while, but if that day does come, you have to ask yourself: Will you really be all that surprised if it does?