An NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions hearing panel has ruled that the University of North Carolina did not violate the association's academic rules when it offered so-called "paper courses" to students, a disproportionate number of them being student-athletes.

The courses, in UNC's African and Afro-American Studies tracks, required only the writing of one paper to determine a student's grade in the course. Between 1993 and 2011, 3,100 students opted for such courses. More than half of those students were student-athletes, leading to allegations that they had been steered into courses that would help preserve their athletic eligibility.

In 2015, the university was served a notice of allegations, which the NCAA revised twice since, and university officials were allowed to make their case last December. The main charge — that the university provided benefits to student-athletes that were not available to the student body at large — was determined by the panel to be unfounded.

"While student-athletes likely benefited from the so-called 'paper courses' offered by North Carolina, the information available in the record did not establish that the courses were solely created, offered and maintained as an orchestrated effort to benefit student-athletes," said Greg Sankey, the panel's chief hearing officer and commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, in an NCAA release. "The panel is troubled by the university's shifting positions about whether academic fraud occurred on its campus and the credibility of the Cadwalader report, which it distanced itself from after initially supporting the findings. However, NCAA policy is clear. The NCAA defers to its member schools to determine whether academic fraud occurred and, ultimately, the panel is bound to making decisions within the rules set by the membership."

As reported by SI.com, a former U.S. Justice Department official looked into the African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department and found that independent study-style courses were misidentified as lecture courses and estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes across several sports, including members of the football and men's basketball teams, accounted for half the enrollment.

While North Carolina faced five top-level charges, including a lack of institutional control, only one former employee faces any sanctions regarding the case. At least four people were fired — and one, the initial whistleblower, was demoted — as result of the scandal, according to SI.com.

Paul Steinbach is Senior Editor of Athletic Business.