The NCAA troubles for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill began in May 2010 with an early morning tweet from Marvin Austin, then a star football player for the Tar Heels, who wrote of a night of partying at a lavish club in South Florida. Twenty months later, the university is hoping its NCAA problems have come to an end for good.
The NCAAs Committee on Infractions on Monday released its final verdict in a case that embarrassed the Tar Heels football program and tarnished the schools academic reputation. It led to the early retirement of former athletic director Dick Baddour and the firing of football coach Butch Davis.
The committee ruled that the UNC football team must serve a one-year postseason ban in 2012, and eliminate five football scholarships per year in each of the next three academic years. The committee also increased UNCs self-imposed probationary period from two years to three.
In its report, the committee wrote that the improprieties that took place within the Tar Heels football program serve as a cautionary tale to all institutions to vigilantly monitor the activities of those student-athletes who possess the potential to be top professional prospects.
Austin was considered to be an elite professional prospect on May 18, 2010 when he posted on Twitter, I live In club LIV so I get the tenant rate. bottles comin (sic) like its (sic) a giveaway.
That message ignited an NCAA investigation that determined Austin had received impermissible benefits from an agent. The investigation expanded as the weeks and months passed, and it eventually uncovered several major violations within the UNC football program.
Sports agents, cheating
In its report, the infractions committee detailed seven of those major violations, which included academic fraud, impermissible benefits from agents and a failure to monitor the football program.
The NCAAs investigation found that six UNC football players over three seasons competed while ineligible because of those violations, and that multiple football players received impermissible benefits amounting to more than $31,000.
At the end of the day, the report speaks for itself, said Britton Banowsky, the chairman of the NCAA infractions committee, who is also the commissioner of Conference USA. Its also important to note at the outset that the enforcement staff and university were in substantial agreement on virtually every allegation in this case.
Banowsky praised UNCs cooperation and participation in the NCAAs investigation, but aid those mitigating factors didnt outweigh the egregious nature of the misdeeds at UNC.
Thorp: No appeal
Holden Thorp, the UNC Chapel Hill chancellor, said on Monday that the university considered appealing the NCAA sanctions but decided against it.
We decided that it didnt make sense to appeal, Thorp said, given how long the appeal would take, given the (lack of) success other schools have had with appeals and perhaps most importantly the fact that the penalties would be suspended during the appeal so we decided its best to accept our sanctions and move forward.
All along, UNCs NCAA woes centered on the relationship between football players and agents. And the NCAAs report reflected those issues.
Many of the violations the NCAA uncovered at UNC involved John Blake, the former assistant coach who was found to have close ties with Gary Wichard, a high-profile sports agent who died of cancer in 2011. The committee found Blake received payment from an agent for access to football players.
For his involvement in the scandal, the committee gave Blake a three-year show-cause penalty, which essentially bans him from coaching at an NCAA-affiliated school during the next three years.
The committee also noted that Jennifer Wiley, the former tutor who played a central role in the academic fraud side of the case, remained uncooperative throughout the investigation.
Davis, the Tar Heels former head coach, was not named in final NCAA report, and the NCAA never accused him of wrongdoing. In a statement he released through one of his lawyers on Monday night, Davis said he was saddened.
It has been a difficult process for everyone, he said in the statement. I cooperated fully with the proper entities throughout this entire investigation. I felt that my staff and I implemented many practices into the program to try to prevent these types of issues.
UNC also punished itself
In addition to the penalties the NCAA levied against UNC on Monday, the university had previously announced that it would vacate the 16 games the football team won during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. The university also fined itself $50,000.
After UNC officials appeared in Indianapolis before the infractions committee on Oct. 28, the university had been waiting to learn its fate. Thorp said he received the NCAAs ruling at 9 a.m. on Monday, and the sanctions became public later that afternoon. They were more severe than what UNC had been expecting.
I think when you get news that is a little bit different than what you anticipated, you run a range of emotions, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. I think you have some frustration, some disappointment, some angst weve chosen to respond to it in a very positive way,
Cunningham was among those who met on Monday morning to decide whether to appeal the sanctions. Larry Fedora, the football coach whom the university hired in mid-December, was also a part of that discussion.
Members of the NCAA committee on infractions, meanwhile, stood by the sanctions and dismissed the notion that they hadnt been stern enough.
Losing a postseason opportunity, I think everyone would agree, is significant, said Greg Sankey, an associate commissioner of the Southeastern Conference who is a member of the infractions committee. Show-cause orders have significance. The loss of scholarships in any program are significant .
The Carolina way
Its definitely a tough time, former UNC player Robert Quinn said on Monday. I wouldnt have wished that on anybody. I know some of the younger guys who still go there and I know they will continue to fight.
Quinn, now a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams, was one of seven players who in 2010 served season-long suspensions for their role in the scandal. Fourteen UNC players sat out at least one game that season because of suspension. Austin, Quinn and former receiver Greg Little were central figures in the investigation.
Dick Baddour, UNCs former athletic director, also defended the Carolina way, even after the football program lost its way under Davis.
Theres still a Carolina way, Baddour said. And the way we did this investigation its my strong belief it was the Carolina way.
N&O staff writer Chip Alexander contributed to this story