I have no words.
So I'll borrow Dennis Dodd's: "There is no more academic fraud. Cheating might as well be a major."
Now, to be fair, there were at least two attempts to explain--not excuse, but explain--the decision. One is on Bill Simmons's site: "North Carolina Was Always Going to Get Off in the NCAA’s “Paper Class” Investigation". Here's its key point:
More importantly, the athletes involved did not breach their status as amateurs by taking the paper classes. And that’s a problem for the NCAA, which as an organization really only has the authority to deal with amateurism-related violations.
Excuse me? Why then does the NCAA nominally set academic eligibility requirements which all Division I schools make a huge--huuuuge!--production out of complying with? To wit:
Student-Athletes are required to meet and maintain certain academic standards in order to practice and compete in Division I athletics.
The Academic Performance Program (APP) is designed to ensure Division I student-athletes receive exemplary educational and intercollegiate-athletics experiences. The APP encourages student-athlete graduation through a reward and penalty system directly tied to a team’s academic performance. The APP umbrella covers both the Academic Progress Rate (APR) and Graduation Success Rate (GSR).
I'm sorry, but while we thank you for playing, this explanation is no good.
The other attempted explanation I saw was from the usually extremely insightful Paul Mirengoff at PowerLine, "Widespread Academic Corruption Lets UNC Sports Off the Hook". Paul's argument is that while the charge was that UNC provided "unfair benefits" to the athletes in the form of these phony courses, the phony courses were provided probably with the purpose and certainly with the result of helping all UNC students who shouldn't have been admitted in the first place. Hence, no "unfair benefits" and no penalty.
The charge of "unfair benefits" was made because the enforcement staff thought that that would be a more acceptable charge. Charging fraud would, it was thought, put the NCAA in the position of assessing the academic quality of a member institutions' courses which the NCAA has vehemently said it cannot do.
But fraud it was! There's ample documentary evidence that these were not "easy courses". They were fraudulent courses. (And I think the evidence clearly shows they were conceived and implemented solely to help the athletes not anybody else.) Don't believe me? Allow me to quote from the NCAA's decision memorandum, first page:
Within the academic review of the classes outside the NCAA infractions process, UNC told its accrediting body that the 18 years of academic conduct was "long-standing and egregious academic wrongdoing." It also originally adopted it's accreditor's characterization of the wrongdoing as "academic fraud".
The details are many and are so, so gory. If you want a decent summary, written in a white-hot fury, by a Dukie, I recommend, "A Pitiful Victory: Lies, damned lies and UNC". It ends this way:
How very sad then that after fighting Jim Crow for decades, after fighting for justice and inclusion, how dreadful is that the former champion of the oppressed welcomed African-American students and athletes to campus, only to exploit many of those athletes for their physical talents and money-making abilities and to fail at the one thing a university is supposed to do.
Enjoy your victory, champs.
This is what you wanted, right?