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Need to Know

The Nuts-and-Bolts Case Against U.N.C.

It didn’t take years for the N.C.A.A. to issue its ruling in the case of North Carolina, which first came under investigation in the summer of 2010 for allegedly committing a series of rule-breaking missteps: academic fraud and impermissible benefits, for starters, but don’t sleep on the charges of unethical conduct lobbed toward former defensive line coach John Blake. It only took 609 days – a year and change, one year and two-thirds – for the N.C.A.A. to issues its Public Infractions Report, which on face value presents a sizable step back for a program wholly prepared to turn the page on Butch Davis, rules violations and the specter of incoming N.C.A.A. penalties and probation. The impact of the N.C.A.A. rulings will be felt not by those who stepped out of line, but rather on the program’s brand-new staff.

The general thrust of the report details seven violations of N.C.A.A. legislation, though a handful seem to overlap – among the seven, there are two instances of “impermissible benefits” and another pair involving “unethical conduct.” Blake, who stepped down from his duties shortly before the start of the 2010 season, is mentioned twice, both times in connection with the latter phrase.

The seven violations chronicle either an altogether hands-off mentality or an utter flaunting of the N.C.A.A. rule book; it seems, based on the release, that Davis and his staff were both knowingly violating N.C.A.A. rules while also ignoring the potential ramifications of their actions. The findings, in brief:

1. Unethical Conduct and Impermissible Participation

“As a result of the academic fraud, student-athlete 1 competed while ineligible during the 2008 football season, student-athlete 2 competed while ineligible during the 2009 and 2010 football seasons, and student-athlete 3 competed while ineligible during the 2008 and 2009 football seasons.”

According to the N.C.A.A., a university tutor provided impermissible assistance – doing work under a student-athlete’s name, for instance – for three players, including one who had already graduated by the time the N.C.A.A. opened its investigation.

2. Impermissible Benefits

“During the 2009-10 academic year and August 2010, the former tutor provided approximately $4,075 in impermissible extra benefits to football student-athletes.”

Fairly self-explanatory. As stated in the report, in May of 2010 the tutor gave one student-athlete $150 to cover a flight back from spring break. In August of 2010, the tutor paid $1,789 to cover a student-athlete’s outstanding parking tickets. In addition, the tutor provided free academic counseling to the tune of $2,134.

3. Unethical Conduct and Failure to Cooperate

“The former tutor failed to deport herself in accordance with the generally recognized high standards of honesty and sportsmanship normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics by knowingly providing 11 football student-athletes with improper benefits and by refusing to furnish information relevant to [the investigation].”

Again, the tutor. A three-pronged attack on the N.C.A.A. rule book: one, the academic fraud; two, the impermissible benefits – even if the latter, providing free academic counseling, isn’t the worst thing in the world; and three, a failure to fully comply with the N.C.A.A. investigation. Of the three missteps, the third is the one that really sticks in the N.C.A.A.’s craw.

4. Preferential Treatment and Benefits From Prospective Agents

“During 2009 and 2010, seven football student-athletes received $27,544.88 in benefits from individuals, some of whom triggered N.C.A.A. agent legislation.”

Three players received more than $5,000 in benefits from agents and their “runners,” two of whom were former U.N.C. football players. If you recall, such improper relationships was the primary rationale behind 13 players being suspended for the 2010 season opener against L.S.U. – one player, former defensive tackle Marvin Austin, was suspended for the entire season, his last with the program before entering the N.F.L. Draft.

One student-athlete received more than $13,000 in impermissible benefits. This total included two flights to California worth more than $1,000 apiece; lodging when on the West Coast valued at $3,000; athletic training valued at $1,020; three flights to Miami worth $2,000; and $3,000 in cash or credit card payments.

5. Failure to Monitor

“During 2009 and 2010, the institution failed to monitor the conduct and administration of the football program. Specifically, the institution failed to a) monitor the activities of former student-athlete A; and b) investigate information it obtained suggesting that student-athlete 5 may have been in violation of N.C.A.A. legislation.”

This is one step removed from the dreaded “lack of institutional control.” While still a damning indictment of the university’s monitoring of its football program, it could have been worse for the Tar Heels: the N.C.A.A. could have cited that lack of control, which would have greatly impacted the ensuing penalties handed down to the program.

The key statement? “The institution was unaware of former student-athlete A’s affiliation with any sports agent and observed no inappropriate activity on his part in his interactions with student-athlete.” While the report goes on to note that U.N.C. was later clued into the student-athlete’s improper dealings and should have done a better job handling the situation from that point forward, that the university did not know from the start tempered the N.C.A.A. ruling.

6. Unethical Conduct and Failure to Cooperate

“The former assistant coach failed to deport himself in accordance with the generally recognized high standards of honesty and sportsmanship normally associated with the conduct and administration of intercollegiate athletics by knowingly providing 11 football student-athletes with improper benefits and by refusing to furnish information relevant to [the investigation].”

The first of two violations revolving around Blake, the former recruiting hotshot with a dark secret: while working at U.N.C., it was alleged that Blake was involved in a partnership with Gary Wichard, an N.F.L. agent who died last March after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer. According to the report, Blake denied his connection with Wichard during his interviews with N.C.A.A. staff on Aug. 3 and Aug. 31, 2010.

In fact, the most devastating aspect of this particular violation is described by the N.C.A.A. thusly: Blake “[furnished] the N.C.A.A. and the institution (with) false and misleading information.” As noted above, the N.C.A.A. frowns upon – putting it lightly – those who lie and mislead investigators. Blake lied, telling the N.C.A.A. that he was not in a partnership with Wichard when, in fact, he was.

7. Failure to Report Outside Income

“From May 2007 to October 2009, the former assistant coach did not report $31,000 in athletically related outside income from [Wichard’s agency].”

Talk about a paper trail. While Blake was denying any financial connection to Wichard or his agency, the N.C.A.A. uncovered seven bank transfers from the agency’s bank account into Blake’s personal account. Four of the payments came in 2007, including a $10,000 transfer into Blake’s account on May 21.

In addition, the N.C.A.A. release states that a former employee at the agency “provided detailed information regarding student-athletes recruited by” Blake, “even though (Blake) denied ever doing so.” The N.C.A.A. was thereby able to refute Blake’s testimony.

Here’s where the investigation kicks into another gear: U.N.C., through Blake, was blurring the lines between amateurism and professionalism. That’s not an argument a university wants to have with the N.C.A.A. – this is where the N.C.A.A. will typically bring down the hammer.

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  1. George says:

    UNC should have been hit much harder, something along the lines of what USC got … 2-year bowl ban and 30 lost scholarships. This is a wrist slap.

  2. Norm says:

    This sends a message to other schools – do not cooperate with any NCAA investigation (as UNC did) in the belief the NCAA will go any easier on you.

    Better to stonewall, stonewall, stonewall, and maybe the NCAA cannot get enough evidence to prove anything.

  3. GTWrek says:

    These 1 year bowl bans and loss of a couple of scholarship penalties are so weak that they do nothing to deter bad behavior. And at the same time may even encourage bad behavior because the upside is so much greater than the “down”side. College football has become an absolute farce.

    The busted Miami booster said he couldn’t compete with the river of money in the SEC. Those were his exact words. Thus the hookers and strip clubs and assorted bling.

    I think the NCAA must be willfully blind to what’s going on and only act against big programs when the media reveals/forces it. I mean why is it always Yahoo breaking these stories, and never the NCAA announcing them.

    Schools with the lowest academic standards win the titles. Schools who cheat aren’t punished. College football is really almost a broken sport these days. But MooU with no admission standards has a million alumni throwing around barrels of cash because their ego is too intertwined with their “school”. Can’t upset that apple cart.

    Make the death penalty a standard punishment. And make playing college sports at the 1-A level a privelage that has to be earned by a respectable SAT score. 1200 or so. Then college sports can be legit again.

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