FOOTBALL UNDER INVESTIGATION
This was to be The Year. A handful of pro prospects on the field. The coming-of-age of Butch Davis football on the heels of two eight-win
seasons. A chance to knock off a traditional
power on national TV to start the season. A
$70 million addition to Kenan Stadium.
Then in mid-July came word that the
NCAA had sent its people to Chapel Hill to
talk to some football players. Heavier and
heavier words followed: Investigation, suspension, improper gifts, academic misconduct, dismissal. As of this writing, still heavier
ones hung in the air: institutional control.
The wheels did not come off. The chancellor’s office and the athletics department
had not knowingly allowed anyone of questionable status to keep playing and never had
boasted — as schools sometimes do in this
situation — “We’ve done nothing wrong
and we’ll prove it.” On the field, the Heels
took LSU to the last down and by the end
of October had a respectable record of 5-3.
Chancellor Holden Thorp ’ 86, Dick
Baddour ’ 66 and Davis had set about tight-
ening controls on athletes’ relationships
with academic helpers and their contacts
with outsiders such as pro sports agents.
“We will straighten this out,” Thorp said.
“We will find out what happened.”
But alumni who took as much pride in
the Carolina way of winning as in the fact
of it felt the wind knocked out of them.
Damage was done by the actions of an
apparent few, on those men’s watch —
when the Tar Heels took the field against
LSU, 13 players were held out. Another was
taken out after he played four games. And,
as some players subsequently were pun-
ished, everybody waited to see whether the
violations extended to the program itself.
“I didn’t want to stake this much of my
career on intercollegiate athletics, but that’s
the situation we’re in,” Thorp told representatives of the faculty.
Agent contact, academic misconduct
College athletes are permitted to have
contact with agents, but they can’t sign on
for an agent’s services, and they cannot take
gifts or other benefits, including travel
expenses. This is what the NCAA began
looking into at UNC — and simultaneously at other schools — earlier this year.
In the course of interviewing football players about agent contact, another issue
emerged: apparent academic misconduct
involving players and a UNC tutor. The
tutor, who was an undergraduate student at
the time, also had been employed privately
by Davis to tutor his son. (She was let go
by UNC in July 2009 after she appeared to
have friendships with football players with
whom she worked, which is not allowed.)
About two weeks following the first
media reports, there was an ominous thud:
The NCAA wanted to know about the
financial relationship between Associate
Head Coach John Blake and agent Gary
Wichard. On Sept. 5, Blake resigned, saying
it was best for his family, UNC and the
football program. On Sept. 30,
Yahoosports.com released the results of a
four-month investigation of the financial
relationship between Blake and Wichard,
detailing several financial transactions.
Blake’s lawyers acknowledged he received
money from Wichard and insisted these
were loans from a close friend.
Meanwhile, the N.C. Secretary of State’s
office was looking into agent-player relationships for possible violations of the state’s
Uniform Athlete Agent Act.
Davis said he knew nothing of Blake’s
dealings with the agent, and on Oct. 4 he
said, “I’m sorry I trusted John Blake.” He said
he would have fired Blake had he known
about his financial relationship with Wichard.
On Oct. 11, UNC came down on one
star player and the NCAA came down on
Senior Marvin Austin was dismissed from
the team for violations of NCAA rules on
agent benefits, preferential treatment and
ethical conduct. The NCAA ruled senior
Greg Little and junior Robert Quinn “
permanently ineligible” for accepting improper
gifts and travel accommodations. The University told the NCAA that Little and
Quinn had not told the truth during three
separate interviews. All three were allowed
to keep their scholarships. They apologized.
Even as three college football careers
ended, only the barest details of the investigation were made public: Baddour and
Thorp continually reminded concerned
alumni and restless football fans that they
had agreed with the NCAA to keep the
probe close to the vest.
The academic cases were referred to the
student-run Honor Court, where they were
to be treated like other improprieties.
Regardless of what eventually is made pub-
lic about the investigation, the court’s proceedings might never be revealed. (Related
story, page 24.) In the middle of October
came reports on reinstatements of some of
those originally held out and suspensions of
others. There were no details. Baddour
reminded the public not to make assumptions about which individuals were involved
in which parts of the investigation.
Thorp and Baddour repeated their support of Davis whenever they were asked. But
when asked by a reporter whether he
thought it was appropriate for Davis to have
employed a tutor who had worked with the
football program, Thorp answered, “No.” And
regarding Blake, he told a meeting of the
Faculty Council on Oct. 8: “We’ve been