Fowler

Tar Heels kick off a season of infamy

Staff WriterSeptember 4, 2010 

Today is a sad day to be a Tar Heel.

This was the season that was supposed to change North Carolina football.

And that it has certainly done.

Instead of coach Butch Davis and his team making all Tar Heels proud with an ACC championship and a BCS bowl berth, however, we're seeing the polar opposite.

Without playing a game yet, the 2010 version of the Tar Heels football program has become an embarrassment to the University of North Carolina and all it stands for.

This NCAA investigation and the accompanying collateral damage are the sorts of things that get coaches fired. Davis may well not survive this mess.

UNC officials are furiously trying to repair the damage as the probe into agent-related and academic issues continues. The school announced Friday that it will withhold as many as 13 players from tonight's season-opener against Louisiana State for violating school and/or NCAA rules.

That's a staggering number. It speaks to both the cautious nature with which the UNC administration is now treating this scandal and how widespread it has become.

This is not about one rogue player. It is far larger. And just when you think the whole thing can't get worse, every week it seems to. This is the cockroach of college athletic scandals - insidious, nasty and very hard to kill.

Most of the North Carolina players ineligible for tonight's game play defense - including defensive end Robert Quinn, who may be the best player in the ACC. But the list also includes the Tar Heels' top three rushers from 2009.

Who is left to wear Carolina blue?

A hodgepodge of first-, second- and third-teamers - all of whom should be as angry at their ineligible teammates as all Tar Heels fans and alums must be.

The players who did nothing wrong are now being painted with the same scandalous brush.

And they are the ones left to shoulder the criticism when things go wrong on the field, too, as they inevitably will.

It all feels so sordid for a university that has long prided itself on NCAA cleanliness.

The stain on North Carolina's football program cannot be scrubbed clean all season.

The only good news any Tar Heels fan can take from any of this is that: 1) the UNC administration seems committed to fixing things and 2) apparently the scandal won't bleed into the Roy Williams' basketball program.

Speaking of basketball, former North Carolina point guard Bobby Frasor wrote on his Twitter account Friday: "Coach Williams used to tell us teams come together and rally when they lose a star player. Never told us what happens when they lose 12."

In this case, losing 13 players probably means the Tar Heels lose tonight.

All of it couldn't be much worse timing for No.18 North Carolina - playing one of its highest-profile openers ever with this nationally-televised game in Atlanta against No.21 LSU.

The Tar Heels and LSU set this game up long ago, and a lot of $60-$130 tickets were sold before we all found out who's not playing. Many Tar Heels fans have to feel today that they deserve a partial refund and must wonder whether the drive to Atlanta will be worth making.

It turns out North Carolina really needed to play Presbyterian in its football opener this season, as Wake Forest did Thursday, and get a 40-point home win without many people watching.

Instead, the prime-time ABC telecast will necessarily focus a good bit of time on the Tar Heels' suspensions and their aftermath. North Carolina will likely take it on the chin both on the PR and scoreboard fronts.

This is not the way the eve of a big-time opening day should ever feel.

Fans want to count down the hours before kickoff, not count up the number of players suspended hours before the game.

But the actions of the players - helped along by who knows how many adults who should have known better - have robbed fans of that privilege.

So the cockroach of scandals scurries along, leaving shudders in its wake.

No matter the cost - and it will be considerable - UNC must stamp it out.

sfowler@charlotteobserver.com or 704-358-5140

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