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UNC group reviewing support structure for athletes

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 9, 2014 at 7:32 pm •  Published: May 9, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Officials at North Carolina are working to reshape how the school works with athletes on everything from providing academic support to instructing them about following NCAA rules.

The goal is to avoid another scandal like the one that has shaken the school for the past three years.

The group of academic and athletic officials has spent the year reviewing policies in 22 different areas connected to the lives of UNC athletes. Led by provost James W. Dean Jr., and athletic director Bubba Cunningham, the group is looking for new ideas, ways to improve existing procedures and whether changes implemented since the trouble began are working.

"I continue to believe this is something we have to do," said Dean, the school's top academic officer. "And I think in some ways, other schools are probably going to want to do something similar for the same reason we're doing it: to make sure there's not some element of what we're doing that we haven't ever really thought carefully about, that doesn't really withstand scrutiny."

The group has met 10 times since starting in the fall and is scheduled to work into September. It will present recommendations to faculty groups to review midway through and after completing its work.

One example will be to widely test incoming athletes to assess their learning levels or potential disabilities during spring campus visits instead of waiting until summer. The school began earlier testing of some athletes this spring.

In addition, Bradley Bethel, a UNC learning specialist who works with football players, is helping to develop a summer program to improve college-level reading and critical-thinking skills for incoming athletes — many of whom might need that help in staying eligible.

"Based on those kinds of interactions I've had ... it seems to me like they really are scrutinizing and looking at everything very meticulously," said Bethel, who has a blog defending UNC's academic support system for athletes.

The group was created in the aftermath an NCAA investigation into the football program in 2010 that later expanded to fraud in an academic department popular with athletes — most notably, lecture classes that did not meet and were treated as independent studies requiring only a research paper at the end of the semester.

The findings spawned a series of internal and external reviews, and reforms. Critics have said the "paper classes" were designed to keep athletes eligible. An investigation led by former Gov. Jim Martin found no evidence of athletic department involvement, though another probe led by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein is underway.

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