RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge has granted the NCAA’s motion to dismiss the governing body from a lawsuit filed by two former North Carolina athletes seeking to hold it at least partly responsible for the school’s long-running academic fraud scandal.
In a ruling signed Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Loretta C. Biggs stated attorneys for former women’s basketball player Rashanda McCants and ex-football player Devon Ramsay hadn’t proven that the NCAA had a legal obligation to ensure the soundness of classes offered at UNC under state law.
McCants and Ramsay filed their lawsuit in January 2015 months naming the NCAA and UNC as defendants, arguing that neither had done enough to ensure athletes receive a quality education while citing the scandal on the Chapel Hill campus as a result. The case against UNC is still pending.
NCAA spokeswoman Emily James didn’t immediately return an email for comment Friday afternoon.
The lawsuit came two months after an independent probe conducted by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein outlined nearly two decades of irregular courses featuring GPA-boosting grades in a department popular with athletes.
The case led to questions from UNC’s accreditation agency, which placed the school on a year of probation that expired in June. UNC also is currently facing five potentially top-level charges from the NCAA connected to the case.
Biggs issued a stay on UNC’s motion to dismiss, noting that another lawsuit filed by two former ex-UNC athletes is pending while the court determines whether the school is an arm of the state with sovereign immunity. That case was filed by former football player Michael McAdoo and former women’s basketball player Kenya McBee.
Biggs heard arguments and questioned attorneys in both cases during an all-day court session in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in April.
“It would appear that what the Plaintiffs really seek is for the NCAA to do more, i.e., to undertake these tasks” of oversight and ensuring the “academic soundness” of courses, Biggs writes in Friday’s order.
One of the attorneys handling the McCants-Ramsay case is Michael Hausfeld, who represented former UCLA men’s basketball standout Ed O’Bannon in an antitrust case against the NCAA. Another is Robert F. Orr, a former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice who has become an advocate of NCAA reform.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Orr said that attorneys would take some time “digesting” Biggs’ order to figure out whether to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, located in Richmond, Virginia.
“We have to sit down and evaluate the chances of success and review the judge’s order to see what we disagree with other than the conclusions,” Orr said.
The case centers on independent study-style courses requiring a research paper or two in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. Many were misidentified as lecture courses that didn’t meet and were run by an office administrator, not a faculty member.
Wainstein’s probe estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports making up roughly half the enrollments.
Hausfeld had argued that athletes who took even one of the irregular courses had been defrauded, while noting the NCAA bore some oversight responsibility for academics in college sports.
But Biggs writes the NCAA’s “public statements espousing aspirational goals” regarding academics for athletes weren’t enough to trigger a legal duty to ensure the quality of courses. Biggs also dismisses claims of negligence, noting it would only apply to physical injury or property damage instead of “purely economic” damages according to state law.
In addition, Biggs notes that “broad, sweeping assertions” in the lawsuit “do little to support … that the NCAA voluntarily assumed a duty of care to them.”
“To the extent that Plaintiffs raise policy rather than legal issues for the Court to determine, Plaintiffs have chosen the wrong forum,” the order states.
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