Tudor: Austin's situation unclear

Staff WriterSeptember 2, 2010 

Hardly anyone could have been surprised by Wednesday's announcement that North Carolina football star Marvin Austin is under suspension and will not play in Saturday's opening game against Louisiana State.

From the first news that the school was facing an NCAA investigation, the spirited senior defensive lineman has been a central figure in a series of events that created instant controversy and anxiety throughout the team, the student body and the fan base.

Exactly why Austin was suspended by coach Butch Davis isn't clear.

In that respect, the announcement fell directly in line with almost everything else associated with the progressively mysterious situation.

The NCAA probe may be about possible illegal player dealings with agents and the school probe may be about possible academic misconduct, but UNC could not be more enigmatic in its actions if it changed its call letters to CIA.

Davis, in a news release, stipulated only that Austin's suspension was "not a result of the ongoing NCAA review" and that he had violated team rules.

Which players, if any, will join Austin on the inactive list Saturday in the Georgia Dome is also classified information.

UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said Wednesday "if we have guys in question they won't travel."

North Carolina fans in Atlanta and those watching on television will have to wait and see whether Austin is the tip of an unavoidable iceberg or an isolated case of disciplinary action.

If Austin were the only one to miss the game, the Tar Heels would still have a decent chance to find some refuge in a victory.

LSU is a big-name, big-time Southeastern Conference program with national championship plaques in its trophy case, but the Tigers also lost four games in 2009. Regardless of how it plays out, what is clear is that Austin by now probably regrets his decision to skip the NFL draft and return to school.

According to some judges of talent, Austin would have been a first- or second-round pick. But if he remains on suspension for the entire season, it would be almost impossible for his pro stock to remain high enough to make him early-round draft material.

From the start, this unusual episode in North Carolina football has had the earmarks of trouble for at least one person and perhaps many more than that.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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