Regardless of how the NCAA investigation into North Carolina's football program plays out, the school already has taken an image hit, partially because of its unwillingness to publicly address the situation.
Those involved are presumed innocent, of course. But Carolina's unwillingness to get out on front on this issue is taking an unseen but growing toll on the public-opinion front.
An obvious vow of silence goes beyond head coach Butch Davis, associate head coach John Blake, athletic director Dick Baddour and football players Marvin Austin and Greg Little.
Chancellor Holden Thorp has remained disturbingly mum during the entire episode.
This public retreat gives the appearance of stonewalling - a course that only intensifies public anxiety and suspicion. It also makes the school look scared to many and guilty to at least some.
Everyone may have a reason - or an excuse - to live in the bunker. But don't be misled into thinking the NCAA has the right to impose gag orders on citizens.
Blake, who has been linked to sports agent Gary Wichard, is a public employee with an annual salary of almost a quarter of a million dollars, plus perks.
While it's well documented that big-time college football coaches of all ranks and regard are hideously overpaid, the kind of money Blake is making as an assistant should come with a stipulation to be open and honest when the reputation of an entire university is at stake.
Davis and Baddour, in fact, should demand as much from Blake.
Carolina, by now, either knows for sure what has or hasn't happened, or it has a very good idea.
To assume otherwise is to assume that Baddour, Davis and other school officials - Thorp and school lawyers - haven't sat down with Blake and gotten to the bottom of the situation. That meeting has taken place, whether anyone in authority says so or not.
Austin and Little are on full scholarship to a state university. The Rams Club may be footing the scholarship money, but the taxpayers of North Carolina foot most of the bill for the school to operate.
While Carolina stays quiet, others are talking.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose disdain for UNC dates back decades, chimed in Tuesday with his opinion when asked about the reports on Blake.
"When you've been in coaching as long as I have, we know the reputation of almost all the coaches that have been around a long time," Spurrier told reporters. "We all have a reputation, especially guys who've coached 20 years or so. It's hard to hide whatever your reputation is."
Spurrier recruits against UNC, so it's to his advantage to take a free shot at the Tar Heels. But when UNC doesn't defend the reputation of an associate head coach, it can't look anything except mystifying.
At best, the school is pursing a very odd strategy. It's almost as though everyone is hoping that if they keep quiet, the problem will just go away.
In reality, Carolina's self-inflicted harm to its prestige could wind up being more damaging than anything the NCAA hands down.
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