CHAPEL HILL — UNC athletic director Dick Baddour says that because of the compliance system the school has in place, he will fight the idea that there were institutional control issues in the Tar Heels football program.
At the same time, the school will tighten parts of that system in the wake of a double-barreled NCAA investigation that left three star players - defensive tackle Marvin Austin, defensive end Robert Quinn and wide receiver Greg Little - kicked permanently off the team Monday. The investigations have focused on improper agent benefits and possible academic misconduct.
UNC dismissed Austin, and the NCAA ruled Little and Quinn permanently ineligible for violating NCAA rules regarding sports agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethical conduct. Little and Quinn lied during three NCAA interviews, an NCAA news release said.
The NCAA says Little took benefits worth $4,952 and Quinn took benefits worth $5,642. Baddour said Austin accepted benefits worth $10,000 to $13,000.
Over the past three months, one other player has been declared ineligible to play this season, four additional players have been reinstated after missing at least one game and six more remain sidelined and in limbo.
"I'm standing before you telling you, and I know Butch [Davis, UNC's head football coach] would agree, I wish we had done more," Baddour said during a Monday press conference. "I'd like to relive that part."
For the first time since the initial investigation was announced in early July, Baddour acknowledged that the school must be ready to answer NCAA questions about whether a lack of institutional control - which could lead to harsh sanctions, if it is affirmed - contributed to the program's problems.
According to the NCAA, there are four "pillars" of institutional control: compliance systems, monitoring and enforcement, rules education and a commitment to compliance.
How NCAA assesses control
NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn said in an e-mail message recently that when reviewing violations to determine whether there was a lack of institutional control or failure to monitor, investigators look at the duration and frequency of violations, the visibility of violations, warning signs to the university, number of involved student-athletes or teams, number of involved staff members, significance of impermissible benefits, recruiting or competitive advantage gained, and whether the violation was reported by the university or came from an outside source.
Baddour said that in "Phase 3" of the investigation - which comes after information is gathered on all the individual athletes involved - the school, with the help of the Faculty Athletics Committee and an NCAA investigator, will look at how the compliance program works and what can make it better.
"It is not saying that the NCAA has concluded that there are other issues, institutional control issues,'' Baddour said. " ... There's a lot of smoke around here. I mean we can't deny that there's a lot of smoke around here, which means we've got to go deep. And we've got to look, and they're going to help us."
As the investigation continues, Baddour and Davis said, new policies are already being put into place:
Football players will have to fill out a sign-out sheet if they leave campus for longer than 24 hours - detailing where they are going and for how long. They also must let a position coach know if their plans change.
"That's critically important as to where they're going, who's going with them, who's paying for the particular trips,'' Davis said.
In the past, players signed out (in much less detail) at the end of both semesters, before spring break and after summer sessions. But it's not uncommon for schools not to have sign-out mandates at all. N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said Monday that Wolfpack players don't have to sign out when they leave for vacation, and he doesn't expect that to change.
Financial planners, agents, or "anybody that might represent [the players'] personal interests" will have to contact the athletes through the football administration to set up appointments. "And those appointments with players are going to have to take place in this [football] building, so that no longer will they be making contact with people outside ... [and we'll] at least have some kind of knowledge of what's going on."
It is not against NCAA rules for players to meet with agents at any age, as long as they don't sign, or accept extra benefits. But the NFL Players' Association prohibits agents from making contact with football players until after their junior seasons.
From the time they are freshmen, UNC educates players about agents and extra benefits. Then after their junior seasons, players with NFL potential participate in agent days and seminars. For potential pros, UNC now wants to intensify that education from the beginning.
"Don't wait until a kid gets to be a rising star as a junior or a potential rising star as a senior - because as we have found out in the case of one of these individuals, he was just a sophomore,'' Davis said. "And obviously, legally you have assumed that people are unscrupulously not going to go and reach out to your freshmen and sophomores. That may not be true anymore."
Was the damage preventable?
Neither Baddour nor Davis is sure that, even with a stricter system in place, the agent benefits or academic misconduct would have been totally prevented. "It can happen anywhere ... but it can't be an OK thing for us to say, 'Well, because it could happen somewhere else, it's going to be acceptable here,'" Baddour said. " ... We've just got to be as aggressive as we possibly can. And kids know when they come to the University of North Carolina ... they're going to have to do serious academic work; they're going to have to know when they're going here, they're buying into a level of compliance that's important to us."
Baddour said he is convinced that UNC does not lack institutional control, and that the university has a strong compliance program in place.
"And I think that anybody who looks at that program would say we're doing more than significant things to protect our institution and to protect individuals," Baddour said. "Obviously we need to do more, and that's what this review process is going to do for us, is to establish things we can do better. And we're absolutely committed to that."
Robbi.email@example.com or 919-829-8944