Feelingthe blues


First Posted: 6/23/2011

A long-awaited foot finally dropped on the University of North Carolina’s football program Tuesday, tarring the Tar Heels’ claim of running a sports program the “Carolina Way.” Another foot hangs as UNC will find out within 90 days the penalties it will suffer, which could include a television ban, loss of bowl eligibility, vacated wins, lost scholarships and probation.

But there was a sigh of relief in Chapel Hill as there was fear things could have been much worse. All bets are off when the keys are handed to the NCAA, which delivered its Notice of Allegations to UNC a year to the day after it informed UNC brass it wanted to talk to a player whose tweets are said to have launched the investigation.

Among the allegations: John Blake, an assistant coach at UNC, acted as a “runner,” directing UNC players to an agent in return for cash: a former tutor at UNC provided illegal benefits to UNC football players; players cheated in the classroom; and several UNC players received improper benefits from agents or alumni, ranging from $54 to more than $12,000, and adding up to about $27,000.

These are serious allegations that cannot be justified, but the NCAA did not determine there was a “lack of institution control” on the campus, which would have been the hardest hit. Instead, the NCAA found that it was a “failure to monitor” that caused the problems, and that included UNC officials not following players’ comments on Twitter.

There was some good news for UNC. The football scandal did not creep into other sports, no recruiting violations surfaced, and nothing was attached to football coach Butch Davis, whose head has been in a noose for a year. Davis’ name wasn’t found in the Notice of Allegations, except for an invitation to a hearing during which UNC has a chance to respond to the allegations, and UNC officials are looking to him to clean up the mess that was made under his nose. Davis has done so before, being credited with cleaning up a Miami football program in the mid-1990s that was chin-deep in scandal when he became coach.

UNC officials and fans hope for the best, saying it was a single rogue coach and a handful of players who made bad decisions that sullied the reputation of a university whose athletic programs have been a model for half a century. They point to UNC’s cooperation during the investigation — Blake was fired after the first game of UNC’s 2010 season, and UNC withheld from competition as many as 15 players, including several who were eventually found guilty of nothing — and yearn for credit for “time served.” UNC officials say they gave the NCAA everything it asked for, ranging from phone records to text messages, and conducted their own investigation that uncovered the academic misdeeds.

There aren’t many days that pass without the news that the NCAA has launched another investigation of a football program — Ohio State, Tennessee and Boise State have been in the news for the wrong reasons in recent weeks. But it’s not true that everybody cheats — although few universities could emerge unscathed if subjected to the same probing UNC has endured.

But UNC was supposed to be a symbol of something else — on-the-field excellence that was not tarnished by off-the-field transgressions. It marketed itself as adhering to the most lofty standards, so the fall was farther and harder. A lot of football seasons must pass before “Carolina Way” can be uttered without being met with derision.

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