NCAA President Mark Emmert. Photo via Associated Press.

UNC will try to keep the NCAA focused on its own bylaws.

Today is the long-awaited hearing between the NCAA Infractions Committee and Carolina. It may roll into Thursday if the two parties do not agree on what the pertinent allegations are and consider penalties based on such an agreement.

The NCAA acknowledged recently that that courses offered in the old AFAM department and how they were taught are outside its jurisdiction. UNC admitted wrong doing, but said it was an academic matter that landed the university on one-year probation by its accreditation body, the SACS.

So the NCAA’s case is now based on alleged impermissible benefits that athletes received too much help getting into the AFAM classes, disproportionately to the rest of the student body. UNC’s defense centers on NCAA bylaws that say athletes must have academic advisors that, among other duties, help them arrange their class schedules.

The university could get slapped with a big fine for lack of institutional control, but only if found guilty of the advisors providing extra help. No athletes were caught cheating, which would have rendered them ineligible when they competed, and so the allegations as they are now defined seem worthy of some penalties but no championship banners coming down and no post-season bans for current athletic teams.

What is really at stake here is the credibility of the NCAA, which during an earlier investigation did not seem to care whether UNC jocks took independent study courses instead of lectures. But, after the Wainstein Report, the NCAA reopened its probe and was suddenly very interested.

That is because light penalties for UNC will be seen as the NCAA backing down and letting Carolina off easy, which will tarnish the oft-criticized organization even more. So pundits are predicting harsh sanctions, which will force UNC to appeal and maybe take the NCAA to Federal court.

If the Infractions Committee – supposedly made up of independent-thinking people not beholden to the NCAA –  doesn’t care about reputations getting hurt and keeps its eye on the ball, it won’t come to that when ruling a few months from now.