Watch the back door

First Posted: 9/27/2010

More than three months into an NCAA investigation of the football program at the University of North Carolina, not much is known publicly except that a handful of players had inappropriate dealings with agents and received improper benefits, and a similar number cheated in the classroom.
And this: A football season that Tar Heel faithful were convinced could be magical is slipping away as the Tar Heels are 1-2 following Saturdays win over Rutgers.
Just one of 13 players who have been benched because of the investigation has returned to the field, although two more last week found out when their suspensions would end. That leaves in limbo 10 players including as many as four or five who could eventually be No. 1 picks in the NFL draft and the best guess is that several will never don the sky blue for UNC again.
UNC officials have made plain that their concern isnt this football season, but is the future of the program. They have fully cooperated with the investigation, and seem willing to take their medicine to make sure the university, whose athletic teams have avoided any NCAA sanctions for almost a half century, doesnt have that enviable streak end.
What should be clear is that Coach Butch Davis, who isnt blameless, has the support of the board of trustees, the chancellor and the athletic director, and it will be his job to clean up a mess that was made under his nose. Davis biggest mistake was bringing to the UNC campus John Blake, a renowned recruiter and assistant coach, but someone who has past associations with programs and coaches who have historically played loose with the rules. Blake recently resigned that position.
All this has been visited on the campus for a simple reason: At the end of the 2009 season as many as seven North Carolina juniors considered entering the NFL draft, but all decided to return for their senior year and a final shot at collegiate glory. During the time of indecision, sports agents flooded the campus and some UNC players made poor and selfish decisions, accepting gifts and trips that were forbidden by NCAA rules. Agentgate opened the door to tutorgate, an investigation that some players received improper instruction from a single tutor.
The penalty has been profound for the affected players and their teammates, as it should be. It is shared by a university that has always been protective of its academic standing and reputation for doing things the correct way, and long-suffering fans who are anxious to see Tar Heel football bust the barrier of mediocrity and ascend to the pedestal occupied by UNC’s basketball program.
The paradox is those with the most to gain, agents who profit off the talents of others, have the least to lose. Agentgate hasnt been isolated at UNC as in recent months players at Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida have suffered suspensions for inappropriate associations with agents as the NCAA, embarrassed by the Reggie Bush scandal at Southern Cal, is sending a message. But the NCAA has to understand that as long as agents run free, that impressionable 20-year-olds, many of whom have grown up with little, are vulnerable.
Theres no need closing the front door if the back door is left ajar.

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