The NCAA's investigation had focused on how those classes, which existed for 18 years, benefited athletes.
The university had challenged the NCAA's jurisdiction in the matter, saying it was an academic issue.
The NCAA panel could also not find that "paper classes" benefited only student-athletes, as opposed to the entire student body.
"A Division I Committee on Infractions hearing panel could not conclude that the University of North Carolina violated NCAA academic rules when it made available deficient Department of African and Afro-American Studies "paper courses" to the general student body, including student-athletes", the NCAA's release states.
The only violation the committee saw was the lack of cooperation from a former department chair and a former secretary - and two breaches of confidentiality that will not be penalized. "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". "Since 2014, the NCAA membership has acknowledged the question whether academic fraud occurred is one appropriately answered by institutions based on their own academic policies".
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"A singular principle allowed UNC room to make its claims and, ultimately, limits the panel's ability to conclude that academic fraud occurred", the Public Infractions Decision said.
The school faces five top-level charges, including lack of institutional control, though no coaches are charged with wrongdoing.
Former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein released an independent investigation into the scandal, and by his estimate more than half of the 3,100 students that enrolled in those course from 1993-2011 were Tar Heel athletes.
Beyond that, the NCAA also determined that the paper classes were not impermissible benefits.
The school had been alleged to have been cycling football and basketball players through non-existent courses in African American studies. The basketball program won two NCAA championships during that time period. There was then another review from former North Carolina Gov. Jim Martin who found the sham classes went back to 1997.