University of Maryland president Wallace Loh might have opened a can of worms at a university senate meeting Thursday. When asked how he keeps the school protected from athletic scandal, Loh said how he thought North Carolina’s academic misconduct scandal would be treated. It should be noted, Loh has never served on any Division 1 athletic board.
A recording obtained by the The News & Observer has Loh quoted saying:
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.
North Carolina has been under investigation by the NCAA since 2014 regarding an academic scandal alleged to span over three decades. The “death penalty” he refers to is the harshest sanction the NCAA can enforce against a program. It bans a school’s program from competition for at least a season and was last used against SMU football in 1987. The Mustangs had a long rebuild after that, and it’s unlikely the NCAA would bring the house down in UNC’s case.
Since Loh’s comments were first reported, UNC’s Vice Chancellor of Communications, Joel Curran, clapped back in an angrily worded email to The News & Observer.
“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,” Curran wrote. “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.”
To be clear, academics, not athletics, is Loh’s area of expertise. Navigating between the two isn’t easy, but as the president of a Big Ten school, it’s something Loh has to do every so often. Just last year, he name-dropped Chip Kelly during the football program’s coaching search. These comments are usually offhand and not to be taken totally seriously. His comments about UNC are clearly more serious than those, but Maryland spokesman Brian Ullmann clarified them to the News and Observer:
“It is 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,” Ullmann said. “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.”
It’s definitely still weird that Maryland’s president is the one getting involved here. These allegations have been around for a while, and the death penalty seems an extremely unlikely result for North Carolina, even for a problem this systemic.
Update: During an interview with Sirius XM Wednesday, UNC basketball coach Roy Williams chimed in:
“[W]e have a president that says we should get the death penalty, a president of another university, and to me that’s just so silly,” Williams said, clearly referencing Loh. “A guy told me one time that if you got a little knowledge, it turns you into an idiot, but no knowledge, you’re a double idiot. That’s about the way I look at that thing."
Calling someone a “double idiot” is pretty childish, so hopefully this is the end of this.
Editor’s note: This story was initially published Tuesday after Loh’s comments began to garner national attention.