FIU's Thomas comes full circle

School, coach agree to play UNC

Staff WriterSeptember 2, 2009 

Florida International has decided it will play North Carolina on Nov. 9 in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament as previously scheduled, the school announced Tuesday.

"We will honor our commitment to the tournament and the charity it will support," FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said in a news release.

FIU signed the tournament contract -- which stated the Golden Panthers would play either Ohio State or North Carolina -- before it hired Isiah Thomas as its new coach. Thomas said it will be an honor to play the defending national champion.

"It's kind of fitting that my last game in college was against North Carolina, and my first game as [a college] coach will be against North Carolina," Thomas said in the news release.

The Golden Panthers raised a ruckus last week when the pairing was announced, saying they had expected to play Ohio State in the opening round of the event and that they were angered the event's organizer, The Gazelle Group, had switched games. FIU got its legal department involved and threatened to pull out.

Such a decision would have been costly, though, considering that after its opener, FIU was set to host three home games in the tournament. The NCAA allows tournaments like this one to count four games as two in the overall "games-played" tally.

The Gazelle Group gave FIU the option of playing in the tournament next year instead. But had it pulled out this year, it faced the prospect of losing revenue by playing only two games in place of the tournament -- if it even could have found opponents.

"The biggest benefit to everyone involved, especially to The American Cancer Society, is having Coach Thomas play North Carolina," Garcia said.

In an e-mail, UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner said, "We're glad the matter is resolved and look forward to the start of the season."

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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