McAdoo to put NCAA to test as he seeks injuction to end ineligibility
Michael McAdoo is seeking an injunction to lift his permanent NCAA ban
McAdoo was banned for academic fraud and accepting improper benefits
With benefits of $110 and one academic incident, McAdoo feels penalty is unfair
The NCAA's judicial system tried North Carolina defensive end Michael McAdoo last year and found him guilty of crimes serious enough to warrant a permanent ban from college sports. McAdoo believes the NCAA tried and sentenced him without gathering all the facts, so he is taking college sports' governing body -- as well as his own school -- to a real court in an attempt to salvage his senior season.
No matter the result of McAdoo's request for a preliminary injunction that would allow him to play or the outcome of his lawsuit, the case should provide a fascinating look at what happens when the NCAA's judicial process goes on trial. McAdoo's lawsuit, filed Friday in Durham County in North Carolina, claims McAdoo was "improperly and unjustly declared ineligible to play intercollegiate athletics by Defendant NCAA." McAdoo, who was suspended for all of the 2010 season, is seeking unspecified damages. Most important, attorney Noah Huffstetler said, is the request for a preliminary injunction that would put McAdoo back on the field by the time the Tar Heels begin practice in August. That request is scheduled to go before a judge on July 15. McAdoo's case must pass two tests in order to receive the injunction, Huffstetler said. First, Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. must believe the case can win at trial. Second, Huffstetler must prove McAdoo would suffer irreparable harm if Hudson doesn't grant the injunction.
"How do you put a price on this?" Huffstetler said Tuesday. "It's something a young man dreams of."
McAdoo found himself ensnared on both ends of the two-front investigation that will send North Carolina's football program before the NCAA's firing squad later this year. The investigation found McAdoo guilty of accepting $110 in improper benefits -- $99 from an agent -- and found him guilty of three instances of academic fraud resulting from portions of papers actually composed by tutor Jennifer Wiley. For those crimes, McAdoo was ruled permanently ineligible by NCAA staffers in November, and the NCAA's Student Athlete Reinstatement Committee upheld the sentence in January following a December appeal hearing.
But NCAA investigators didn't dig up the academic fraud allegations themselves. They took North Carolina's Sept. 28 and Oct. 4 self-reports of McAdoo's alleged misdeeds at face value, and McAdoo was found by the NCAA to have "received the impermissible assistance on multiple assignments across several academic terms." No one at UNC or the NCAA ever bothered to adjust the allegations after UNC's Undergraduate Honor Court determined there wasn't enough evidence to charge McAdoo with one of the three counts and found him not guilty of another. NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staffers also did not take into account that the school's Oct. 4 self-report stated that officials believed McAdoo didn't knowingly commit academic fraud.
In the end, UNC's Honor Court found McAdoo guilty of one instance of academic fraud. The class was SWAH 403 (Intermediate Kiswahili III), and the honor court found that Wiley had added citations and composed a works cited page for a paper for McAdoo in July 2009. According to the complaint, Wiley reformatted the citations and works cited page to conform to American Psychological Association style. For this, the honor court suspended McAdoo in October for the spring 2011 semester.
When McAdoo was declared permanently ineligible the following month, the NCAA cited three incidents of academic fraud. When the NCAA held McAdoo's appeal hearing in December, Utah State professor Ken White, the chair of the NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement committee, said during his opening remarks that appeal procedures required all factual disputes to be resolved. If facts appeared to be in dispute, White said, the hearing would be postponed until the disputes were resolved. Yet when a UNC attorney brought up the honor court's decisions, no one from UNC or the NCAA suggested the hearing end because of the obvious factual dispute.
That's because no one in the hearing looked out for McAdoo's interests. He incorrectly assumed UNC's attorneys also were working to help him, but their allegiance was to their employer and no one else. Had McAdoo had his own attorney -- as teammate Devon Ramsay did -- McAdoo might have gotten his ban overturned -- as Ramsay did. In March, with all his NCAA appeal avenues exhausted, McAdoo finally hired someone to represent his interests.
No one from the NCAA would answer SI.com's questions about this case Tuesday. A phone message wasn't returned, and five members of the NCAA's media relations team failed to respond to e-mails containing questions about the case. That appears to be par for the course. According to Huffstetler, NCAA Director of Student-Athlete Reinstatement Jennifer Henderson has ignored correspondence regarding McAdoo's case since early June.
When the case comes before a judge, the NCAA will have no choice but to respond. It will have to explain how it convicted McAdoo without all the facts. NCAA officials are well within their rights to say that McAdoo's one academic fraud conviction is sufficient to ban him forever, but at the moment, everything they've handed down regarding this case -- including the Notice of Allegations last month -- has referred to three instances of academic fraud.
Is one instance of academic fraud and $110 in impermissible benefits enough to justify suspending a player for his final two seasons? That's debatable. When a tutor provided dozens of Florida State athletes with answers for a test for an online music appreciation course, the NCAA agreed in 2007 to a plea bargain that would force the athletes to miss 30 percent of their next season. Cheating on a test and getting APA style pointers are different animals. As for the impermissible benefits, the punishment doesn't seem to fit the crime. Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus admitted to receiving $1,787 in impermissible benefits in 2010 and received only a two-game suspension.
Maybe the NCAA believes the two crimes in combination require a draconian penalty, but should the penalty stand if the NCAA used incorrect evidence when determining its sentence? Judge Hudson will have to decide whether to essentially throw out the NCAA's ruling. Because if Hudson grants the injunction, McAdoo will complete his senior season long before his case goes to trial.
McAdoo isn't the first athlete to try to use the court system to circumvent an NCAA ruling. In 2004, Colorado receiver Jeremy Bloom went to court seeking an injunction that would allow him to play for the Buffaloes despite the NCAA's ruling that Bloom's acceptance of endorsements as an Olympic skier forfeited his amateur status. Bloom lost. In 2008, Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk sought an injunction that would have given him a sixth year of eligibility. He lost.
The NCAA doesn't always win, though. Also in 2008, Oklahoma State pitcher Andy Oliver sued the NCAA, which had ruled him ineligible because of a claim that his advisers had contact with the Minnesota Twins, the team that drafted Oliver in 2006. An Ohio judge ordered Oliver to be reinstated and declared the relevant NCAA rule to be "arbitrary and capricious." To keep its precious rule intact, the NCAA settled with Oliver for $750,000 before the case went to trial.
Can McAdoo prevail in his quest for an injunction? That will depend on the NCAA's response, which so far has been kept under wraps. It seems difficult to believe a judge will look kindly on a body that held a trial but didn't take all the facts into consideration before handing down a harsh sentence. That may be acceptable in NCAA court, but it might not fly in real court.