WILMINGTON — Academic misconduct within the University of North Carolina football program may date back a year or more, Athletic Director Dick Baddour told members of the UNC system's Board of Governors on Thursday.
"The short answer is yes," Baddour said when asked whether cheating may have taken place in prior years. "We will go where the information takes us."
Baddour spoke on the UNC Wilmington campus, where the board, which sets policy for all public universities in North Carolina, is meeting.
UNC system officials asked Baddour and UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp to come to Wilmington to discuss the NCAA and university's investigation of the Tar Heels football program, which sidelined 13 players for its season-opening loss Saturday to Louisiana State University.
The NCAA, the governing body for intercollegiate sports, sent investigators to Chapel Hill in July to interview an undisclosed number of players - including defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little - about possible improper contact with sports agents. As that investigation continues, the university has begun looking into allegations of academic impropriety involving a tutor formerly employed by the UNC athletic department and Tar Heels football coach Butch Davis.
It is not clear just when the tutor, who has not been publicly identified, was allegedly involved. Asked Thursday whether the university knows whether the misconduct stretches back multiple years, Thorp said, "I just can't say."
Thorp said the university will probably get more information from the NCAA on the future eligibility of at least some of the 13 football players currently being held out of competition before the Tar Heels' next game, a home contest Sept. 18 against Georgia Tech.
But Thorp added that it's unlikely there will be any sweeping resolution at any one point; he said each athlete's case is separate.
"What we have is 13 individual cases," he said. "They're all on the race track at different points."
Student court's role
Thorp and Baddour also stressed that athletes being held out will be allowed to play only if both the NCAA and the student Honor Court give their approval. The NCAA governs intercollegiate athletics; the Honor Court at UNC is an autonomous, student-run judicial system that hears student conduct cases, including those involving cheating. It can impose penalties up to and including dismissal from the university; its punishment for athletes found cheating might very well be harsher than what the NCAA imposes, Baddour said.
"If the NCAA says you have to sit out four games, and the honor court says you're not going to be in school, then you're not going to be in school," he said.
Baddour said the "fact-finding" portion of the university's investigation of the allegations is nearing an end. Afterward a broader analysis of the university's academic support program for athletes remains, Baddour said.
The tutoring program
The Academic Support Program - temporarily housed in Kenan Stadium's Pope Box while the new five-story Carolina Student-Athlete Center for Excellence is being built - opened in 1985. Its director reports to the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences but also coordinates with John Blanchard, the senior associate athletic director for student-athlete services. Blanchard reports to Baddour.
Each semester, the program employs 25 tutors and 25 to 30 academic mentors at roughly $10 to $12 an hour. The tutors work individually and in groups on such subjects as history, math and writing.
About a fourth of the tutors, come from the community and include retirees and former teachers. The others are UNC students, graduate and undergraduate, who are usually recommended by individual academic departments.
"Are there ways we could have prevented this?" Baddour asked of the reason for the academic support analysis. "How do we get better? How do we grow from this?"
Baddour and Thorp spoke for about 15 minutes to a largely friendly audience of board members, fielding a smattering of questions that were largely procedural in nature. Several members lauded them for their handling of the matter. Thorp's boss, UNC system President Erskine Bowles, gave the duo an absolute vote of confidence.
Thorp, Baddour backed
"They have gone everywhere the facts take them," Bowles said, standing at a lectern, flanked by Thorp and Baddour. "They haven't jumped to any conclusions. You can be very, very proud of the way they're handling it. This is tough leadership, but we're going to get it done."
Though the UNC system board sets policy for all public universities, it is generally reluctant to wield too heavy a hand when campus controversies arise. But the members do like to be kept in the loop.
"We don't have a formal role in how this unfolds," said Hannah Gage, the board's chairwoman. "It's clearly a campus responsibility, and we're confident Chancellor Thorp will get to the bottom of it and fix it. I can't envision a reason for us to step into that process."
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