University of Maryland, College Park President Wallace Loh said last week that he thinks the NCAA's investigation into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's academic-athletic scandal would lead to the harshest penalties a school can receive, according to a recording obtained by The News & Observer.
During a university senate meeting Thursday in College Park, Loh called the scandals at North Carolina "abysmal" and said they would lead to the NCAA's levying the so-called death penalty, The News & Observer reported. A Maryland spokesman said Monday night that Loh's comments "are not a reflection of personal beliefs about the university [North Carolina] or its leadership."
The North Carolina newspaper received an audio file of a portion of the open meeting, including the question-and-answer section in which Loh commented on the former Atlantic Coast Conference rival.
Asked by someone who identified himself as a Maryland faculty member about the "corrupting influence of athletics," according to The News & Observer, Loh said that as president, he sits over "a number of dormant volcanoes."
“One of them is an athletic scandal. It blows up, it blows up the university, its reputation, it blows up the president," Loh said, according to the report.
“For the things that happened in North Carolina, it’s abysmal. I would think that this would lead to the implementation of the death penalty by the NCAA. But I’m not in charge of that.”
A North Carolina official told The News & Observer that "[c]learly, Dr. Loh misunderstands the facts of the case, and how NCAA bylaws apply to those facts."
Brian Ullmann, the Maryland spokesman, said Loh's remarks are "an example of the challenges that leaders in academia face as universities continue to grapple with balancing athletics with our overarching mission of research and scholarship.
"It's clear that he is not advocating for any one outcome and trusts that all involved are working toward the same goal of rooting out wrongdoing wherever we see it on an academic campus."
North Carolina in December received a third notice of allegations from the NCAA in its protracted investigation into widespread academic fraud at the university. The case is centered on problems in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies department, where independent study-style courses were misidentified as lecture classes that didn't meet and required a research paper or two while featuring significant athlete enrollments while offering high grades.
An independent investigation by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein estimated that more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across numerous sports accounting for roughly half the enrollments.
Historically, the NCAA has been relucant to levy the death penalty, implementing the one-year ban on competition just five times. The last Division I program to receive such a punishment was the Southern Methodist football program, for the 1987 season, after players were revealed to be receiving payments from boosters.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.