Friday's news that 13 North Carolina football players will be held out of the Tar Heels' opener tonight reverberated to the highest levels of the university system, as UNC officials expressed grief and embarrassment over the ongoing investigation into possible violations of NCAA and school rules.
Cary lawyer and UNC graduate Brent Barringer, a member of the UNC system's Board of Governors, called Friday a "sad, sad day in the history of a great university."
Even as they released the news Friday morning, university officials reacted with disappointment.
"I am very sad for everyone who has lost something in this," said UNC chancellor Holden Thorp. "I'm sad for the players who don't get to play, I'm sad for the players who do get to play. The players who are playing have been through a lot. And I'm sorry for our fans who are so disappointed, as they should be, in what's happened."
In an e-mail message to members of the UNC system's board of governors, system president Erskine Bowles wrote that school officials had chosen to err on the side of caution.
He wrote that some of the players withheld from the game might subsequently be cleared by the school's investigative group and the Honor Council, but nonetheless he expressed his disappointment.
"I can assure you that Chancellor Thorp is doing everything humanly possible to get to the bottom of this matter," Bowles wrote. "All of us who love Chapel Hill and are proud of the enormous good it does are greatly saddened by what we have discovered."
When North Carolina was seeking a coaching replacement for John Bunting in 2006, Bob Winston was one of three university trustees who joined UNC athletic director Dick Baddour and then-chancellor James Moeser in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for their first meeting with Butch Davis.
Winston also expressed his disappointment but backed Baddour and Davis, who is starting his fourth season as the Tar Heels' head coach.
"I think we have the right guy as our coach," said Winston, now the chairman of the UNC board of trustees. "I feel that Butch Davis is going to take a look at what's happened and will figure the best way to move forward. And I think he is committed to building this program in a way that will reflect the values of the University of North Carolina."
Barringer, who called Friday's developments "humiliating," wouldn't comment on Baddour or Davis. In talking about the withheld players, Barringer said, "I don't think the buck stops with the players."
Davis' comments were limited to a statement released by the school.
"As I have said, there is no single game more important than the character and integrity of this University," Davis said. "We are disappointed the players' choices have denied them the opportunity to compete alongside their teammates and represent the University of North Carolina. Our coaches and players have a tremendous challenge this weekend, and despite these circumstances, our team will be excited to face LSU."
Despite the embarrassment of the day, officials also reacted with determination to uncover all the facts in the investigation and with hope for the future. Thorp said that when he arrived at the team hotel in Atlanta on Friday, he saw two fans dressed in North Carolina gear, with "Carolina" tags on their suitcases.
Thorp thanked them for supporting the team. They told him the team needed their support now more than ever, Thorp said.
"We're just tremendously disappointed," Winston said, "but we have to figure out how we move forward. We will move forward. Football will continue to be played at the University of North Carolina, and we're going to look at what happened and take measures, whatever those are, and move forward."
Staff writers Robbi Pickeral and Chip Alexander contributed to this report.
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