UNC will appeal players' suspensions Friday

UNC will lobby NCAA to have Burney's, Williams' suspensions reduced.

Staff WriterSeptember 30, 2010 

— The NCAA has scheduled a Friday conference call in order for North Carolina to appeal last week's suspensions of football players Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams, UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said Wednesday.

"Customarily, we would know [the decisions] the same day," Baddour said following an appearance at the Raleigh Sports Club. That means that at least one of the two suspended defensive backs could play in Saturday's game against East Carolina if his penalty is reduced.

Last week, the NCAA ruled that Burney must sit out six games and Williams four games after it was determined that the senior starters had violated the NCAA rules regarding agent benefits and preferential treatment. The violations occurred when Burney took trips to Atlanta, Las Vegas and California and when Williams made two trips to California.

Baddour would not go into the specifics of each appeal but said "a major focus of mine" has been the California trips, when the players visited a former UNC defensive back whom they met at Sutton's Drugstore, a restaurant in Chapel Hill. Baddour last week would not name the former player or when the trips took place.

Speaking at the Raleigh Sports Club luncheon, Baddour said, "What we're contending [is] that one of our students met a former athlete, hit it off, was invited to come out and be with that family, in California. The intention was that that student would pay his way, and essentially, that's what happened.

"Because of what the intention was and because of what happened ... that's the reason I think this [punishment] is unduly harsh. That's what we're trying to sort out this week, is what the level of that violation is."

The NCAA determined that Burney received $1,333 in benefits and must repay $575.19 to a charity of his choice in order to regain eligibility. Williams received $1,426 in benefits, according to the NCAA, and must repay $450.67 to charity. UNC spokesman Kevin Best said the players have not yet chosen their charities and must pay the money, via a payment plan, before the last game of the season.

They don't have to begin repayment until they play in a game.

Both players already have sat out three games, which will be applied toward their suspensions. Unless their penalties are reduced, Williams can return on Oct. 9 against Clemson, and Burney can play on Oct. 23 against Miami.

The players' appeals will be heard by the NCAA's Committee on Student Athlete Reinstatement - a six-person panel composed of athletic directors and faculty representatives from member schools around the nation.

A representative from the NCAA's original reinstatement staff (which levied the penalties), school officials and the player in question all participate in the conference call.

The appeals committee has been meeting via conference call once a week, NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said. Cases are prioritized based on the date that the appeal is received and the date of the student-athlete's next competition

Osburn said the names of the six-person panel are not public information, although anyone who might be on the panel who is from the school, or conference, of the athletes, must recuse himself or herself.

Players on the UNC football team have been under investigation for possible improper benefits from sports agents and/or possible academic misconduct since late June.

Thirteen Tar Heels were originally ruled ineligible or were withheld from UNC's season opener against LSU on Sept. 4. Running back Shaun Draughn missed one game before he was reinstated. Ten players still await a resolution to their situation.

While Williams' penalties encompassed trips to California to visit the former Tar Heels defensive back, UNC said in a statement that the majority of the benefits Burney received were from an individual who meets the NCAA definition of an agent. Burney's father, Tyrone Burney, said last week that trips taken with former UNC player Chris Hawkins led to that suspension. Tyrone Burney said his son traveled to Atlanta and Las Vegas with Hawkins, who his son met through another former UNC player, Willie Parker, about five years ago.

Hawkins recently was ruled an agent by the NCAA after buying a jersey from Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green for $1,000. Green was suspended four games.

Baddour on Wednesday would not name Hawkins specifically as the agent in question with Burney's case, but he told the sports club: "It wouldn't have been our preference to declare that person an agent, because we don't think he is. We think our kids, for the most part, handled that right. But that's where you kind of rub with the NCAA at times - what your perception is and what their perception is."

Baddour also said Wednesday that some of the other ineligible football players have moved to the reinstatement process - during which the school asks the NCAA reinstatement staff to renew the players' eligibility. That panel, which works for the NCAA, decides any penalties and whether athletes are allowed back on the field.

If any of those athletes are penalized, Baddour said, the school won't automatically appeal.

"I'm going to tell you right out, we're not going be about, 'something comes down, we need to appeal' ... that's not the posture we're taking," he said. " ... But if my second principle [in this investigation] is, 'Be fair to the student-athletes,' and I feel like a ruling is not fair, then I know I have an obligation to stand up."

robbi.pickeral@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8944

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