Wichard, not Balmer, key to NCAA probe

Staff WriterAugust 23, 2010 

For North Carolina fans trying to determine when and how the NCAA football probe will end, Friday's statements by former player Kentwan Balmer provided little in the way of real clues.

Other than saying he has not been interviewed by NCAA officials, Balmer didn't definitively say much of anything.

Concerning trips to California during the summer of 2009 by former UNC teammates Cam Thomas and Marvin Austin, Balmer did not say who footed the bills.

Thomas said earlier this month that Balmer, then with the San Francisco 49ers, paid for the trips.

It's obvious that any absence of contact between NCAA investigators and Balmer is of no significance. Even where its member schools are concerned, the NCAA has no power of subpoena, much less over former players and students.

If Balmer were approached, all he would have to do would be to decline to answer. That would be the end of the NCAA's options with him.

When NCAA interviews with former students do occur, there is no penalty for telling untruths, half-truths or misleading information.

While rules likely were broken if Balmer indeed did pay for the trips, the essence of his role remains of debatable consequence.

The crux of the issue regarding any involvement by Balmer relates directly to his agent, Gary Wichard, and his dealings with Austin and Thomas. As with Balmer, the NCAA has no legal authority over Wichard. But if Wichard has been interviewed by the NCAA, the price of lying to or misleading the investigators could be substantially higher.

For starters, the NCAA could hand over its findings and conclusions directly to the state's attorney general, which has all sorts of subpoena power and avenues to punish perjurers of its probes.

In addition to any legal ramifications, Wichard very quickly could become a toxic agent in the NCAA's eyes depending upon how the investigation plays out and how he handles it.

Balmer may not have very much at stake in any of this, but Wichard does.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver or 919-829-8946

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