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No, North Carolina will not receive the death penalty, unfortunately for Maryland

Maryland’s president said the Tar Heels deserve the death penalty at a recent meeting.

NCAA Basketball: Maryland at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh said in a meeting last week that he believes the NCAA investigation into North Carolina will eventually lead to the “death penalty.” He made his remarks about a former ACC rival in response to a question about how the university will “remain protected from the corrupting influence of athletics.”

“The death penalty” is the most serious punishment the NCAA can dole out. It essentially means a program is removed from NCAA competition for a full year. The most famous recent example is SMU football, which was hit with the death penalty in 1987.

Joel Curran, Vice Chancellor of Communications at UNC, responded in an email to The News & Observer saying, “We were surprised that a sitting university president with no direct knowledge of our case would choose to offer such uninformed and highly speculative opinions. Clearly, Dr. Loh misunderstands the facts of the case, and how NCAA bylaws apply to those facts. We are now preparing our response to a third Notice of Allegations and suggest he read it fully once it has been submitted to the NCAA and made public.”

UNC’s academic fraud scandal has been under investigation for years. It’s unreasonable to expect it will end in a death penalty for a few different reasons.

Most importantly: the NCAA realized from the SMU case how severe “the death penalty” really is.

Not only was SMU forbidden to compete against NCAA teams for a year, it also lost 1988 thanks to being barred from playing home games and dealt with a player exodus, a financially disastrous bowl and TV ban through 1989, as well as heavy recruiting and staffing penalties.

One unexpected semi-result of all this? Partly because of overall diminished TV money and national exposure, Arkansas left the Southwest Conference for the SEC, and then four years later Texas and friends left for the Big 12. Proud SWC programs like TCU were left without a major conference anymore. Five coaches later, SMU has had only three winning seasons since.

Seeing all this, the NCAA pledged to wield the death penalty weapon with great care henceforth, as the collateral damage is extreme when it comes to football.

The idea that the NCAA death penalty is still a thing is kind of a misconception. The NCAA has handed out a few postseason bans in big sports recently and might give Ole Miss football one as well, but even those are far different from refusing to sanction a program.

UNC brings in lots of revenue for everybody.

Remember: the NCAA is just a group made up of NCAA member schools.

UNC basketball is one the NCAA’s most successful programs. They are the fifth-highest-grossing team in men’s college basketball, and have remained in the top five for the past eight years, per Forbes, and are one of the most productive athletic departments and brands overall. Entirely shutting out the revenue stream for an whole year can have drastic effects on the NCAA’s bottom line, hurting other teams as well.

The death penalty would also hurt UNC for years down the line, limiting its ability to rebuild bring in the type of profits it’s accustomed to. The Tar Heels are a member of the ACC, the NCAA’s fourth-highest-grossing conference. Eliminating UNC would hurt the bottom line of one of college sports’ most successful leagues.

It would effect the entire college sports landscape.

Even without getting into football, the sport that launched the whole UNC scandal to begin with, a death penalty would impact everyone in the following ways:

  • North Carolina basketball is one of the NCAA’s flagship programs. It’s the place that gave us Michael Jordan. It has 20 Final Four appearances and six national titles, including the current one, alongside 61 conference titles.
  • This would also have drastic effects on many other schools within UNC’s network. Duke basketball would be without its two biggest games of the season, and the rivalry would lose its fire for a few years. UNC also would not be able to participate in many of the early-season tournaments and series, such as the ACC-Big Ten challenge and the Maui Invitational, draining interest from some of the NCAA’s premier events.
  • The ACC, arguably the NCAA’s strongest basketball conference, would lose some of its might. Teams would lose the interest, and revenue gained, from a yearly visit to Chapel Hill, and the sales from UNC coming to play them on the road every year.

The NCAA rarely issues the death penalty anyway.

The last time the NCAA issued a death penalty to a basketball program was in 1974 when Southwestern Louisiana was handed the punishment for recruiting violations, academic fraud, and paying players.

Four of the five death penalties ever given out by the NCAA were due to illegally paying players (the other was for fielding professional players). A team has never received the death penalty for academic fraud alone.

Loh has a history of sometimes saying things he did not need to say.

There was no reason for him to add remarks about UNC to his answer to the question, and he has made ill-conceived statements in the past.

In 2015 he puzzled many when he pointed out Chip Kelly has a potential head coach for Maryland football and stating that football was the main priority of the Big 10 rather than basketball.

He angered some on campus late in 2016 when he chose to use Spanish for parts of his campus address while discussing the school’s immigrant population. Some students were upset that he was misrepresenting many of the students on campus, as not all foreign students were of Hispanic descent.