CHAPEL HILL — Just when it looked as if North Carolina was ready to get resolutions on most of its ineligible/withheld football players, another Tar Heel has been added to the list.
Devon Ramsay, a junior fullback who played in UNC's first four games, was withheld from Saturday's 21-16 victory over Clemson after his name came up last week as part of ongoing NCAA investigations into agent extra benefits and academic misconduct. The school would not specify which part of the probe his potential violation fits into.
Also Saturday, the school announced that safety Jonathan Smith, one of the 13 original players withheld/ruled ineligible before UNC's season-opener, will not play in 2010. Athletic director Dick Baddour said it is his understanding that the senior could redshirt this season and return next year.
Baddour said the school, not the NCAA, discovered Ramsay's possible violation. But the timing could be problematic if it is ultimately ruled that Ramsay was ineligible when he played in UNC's first two victories.
Asked if he was concerned that the Tar Heels might have to vacate those wins, against Rutgers and East Carolina, Baddour said he didn't know.
"I think you all know that we've been in frequent contact with the NCAA," he said. "They signed off on the process that we're using. They have indicated to us several times that they have trust in our process, and we have certainly had more than a good-faith investigation going here, and my hope is that they would accept the effort that we're doing."
Using an ineligible player does not automatically result in vacating games. In February 2008, an NCAA appeals committee ruled that Oklahoma should not have had to vacate eight wins from the 2005 season after three football players, including quarterback Rhett Bomar and offensive lineman J.D. Quinn, received roughly $17,000 for work they didn't do at a car dealership. The appeals committee cited the school's cooperation as a factor.
In March 2009, however, the NCAA vacated Florida State victories in which 61 student-athletes - from multiple sports, including football - participated in 2006 and 2007, after a cheating scandal involving an online course.
After the game, UNC quarterback T.J. Yates said the status of Ramsay, and the wins he played in, "is a thing that everybody's kind of curious about, but it's another thing that we have absolutely no control over. So we're just going to enjoy this win for 24 hours and move on to Virginia."
Asked how quickly UNC (3-2) might know whether Ramsay's appearance in its first four games might result in vacating victories, Baddour said the school is "in the early stages of that, so I don't know that. I can't speculate on that."
Baddour said the information about Ramsay just came up this week because the school is "looking at information that in some cases is three years old."
"We were dealing with a group of people that you would reasonably accept that our concentration would be there," he added. "And then there's another circle of individuals that you would say that's where they [the investigation] ought to go next. And so we are on sort of that final circle of review - and when you're dealing with information that can be two and three years old, this is what you come up with."
Before UNC's season-opener in September, 13 Tar Heels were ruled ineligible, or withheld, as part of the investigations. Tailback Shaun Draughn returned after one game, and safety Da'Norris Searcy returned after three games.
Defensive back Deunta Williams returned from a four-game NCAA suspension Saturday, and cornerback Kendric Burney is scheduled to return from a six-game NCAA suspension in two weeks.
Counting Ramsay and the decision on Smith, that leaves nine players still awaiting word from the NCAA, the UNC Honor Court, or both.
Baddour would not say whether Ramsay's case deals with the academic issue or extra-benefits issues, but the three-year investigative timeframe he mentioned matches up with the dates when an undergraduate tutor - who may have given inappropriate help to players on papers for class - worked for the school. She was paid by UNC as a tutor/mentor from 2007 to July 2009, and worked for head coach Butch Davis from 2008 to May 2010 as a tutor for his son.
The news about Ramsay on Saturday was surprising because Thursday chancellor Holden Thorp told the Board of Governors that investigations related to the individual football players could be resolved in a matter of weeks (although the NCAA's investigation into the program could take more than a year to complete, Thorp said.)
Baddour said before Saturday's game he didn't know if any additional players might ultimately be withheld.
"I didn't think this one would [come up] so I hope not - but I have been consistent in saying that I can't speculate," he said. "... I don't know what to tell you except to say that if it gives anybody any comfort ... we're going to be complete and we're going to be thorough and we're going to go where the information takes us."
Staff researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this story.
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