NCAA focusing on UNC sanctions

NCAA focusing on school sanctions after dealing with player penalties for accepting improper benefits.

Staff WritersNovember 17, 2010 

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CORRECTION

An article Wednesday on the Sports section front incorrectly identified the chairman of an NCAA committee on infractions. Since September, the chairman has been Dennis E. Thomas, who is commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

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The ongoing probes involving the University of North Carolina 's football program are shifting from a focus on the players to sanctions on the program itself.

As UNC announced Monday that two more players - defensive end Michael McAdoo and fullback Devon Ramsay - have been permanently banned from play by the NCAA, it accounted for penalties against all 14 players who have missed games this season. UNC is appealing those two cases.

Still, the announcement signaled that the penalty phase for the players is at a conclusion after nearly four months of school- and NCAA-led investigations into agent-related benefits as well as academic misconduct.

UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said the end is in sight.

The NCAA's next move, though, will be to sift through the violations and determine penalties. And UNC could self-impose sanctions in anticipation of NCAA action.

Michael Buckner, a Florida lawyer who advises schools in NCAA probes but is not involved in the UNC situation, said North Carolina can expect stiff sanctions.

"This case is unique, both because of the number of athletes involved and certainly because of the number who have been declared ineligible," he said.

Neither he nor an NCAA spokeswoman, when contacted Tuesday, could cite examples of schools that had five or more players permanently banned from play.

There is plenty to consider, according to documents and interviews:

Players accepted impermissible benefits totaling more than $21,000. Four players - McAdoo, Ramsay, Greg Little and Robert Quinn - were declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA. A fifth, Marvin Austin, accepted so many impermissible benefits that UNC didn't even petition the NCAA to get him reinstated.

Players committed academic misconduct with the help of Jennifer Wiley, a tutor who also worked for coach Butch Davis, according to a letter dated Nov. 5 in which UNC cut ties with Wiley.

John Blake, the former associate head coach, accepted what his lawyers have called "gifts" and "loans" from sports agent Gary Wichard - who also signed first-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer. Blake was Balmer's position coach at UNC. Blake resigned after UNC learned that he took money from Wichard.

Here's what can be expected as the NCAA moves forward in an attempt to determine possible program sanctions against UNC.

Q: How does this work?

At some point, the NCAA's enforcement staff will issue its findings. UNC and any others affected would have the chance to appeal.

A special NCAA committee on infractions then determines the penalties.

The chairman of that committee is Paul Dee, the former athletic director at Miami. Dee was the AD when head football coach Butch Davis left Miami in 2001 for the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

Davis is in his fourth season at UNC.

Q: What factors will be considered?

Buckner said the NCAA will weigh heavily the number of players implicated and the length of time over which any violations took place.

He said that if the NCAA views Blake as a type of agent because of money changing hands, it could significantly influence what happens. "That potentially would widen the severity," Buckner said.

One aspect that's expected to be in UNC's favor will be if NCAA investigators say the program was cooperative in the probes.

Still, chancellor Holden Thorp's recent statement that there's no evidence Davis knew of the violations won't necessarily help the program.

In a recently decided case at Michigan , Dee compared UM coach Rich Rodriguez to the captain of a ship.

"Some of the things that did occur did not get all the way to the coach," Dee said. "But ultimately, the coach bears a responsibility for the program."

Q: What are the possible penalties?

If the NCAA sanctions a program, it usually takes one or more of three actions:

Reduce scholarships. This limits the number of recruits a program can bring in.

Bans postseason participation. Losing bowl money hits a program in the pocketbook, and loss of exposure can hurt a program in recruiting.

"Vacate" records. Wiping out wins in which ineligible players competed is a stain that lasts forever.

Some possible violations, including trips to California by Austin and former Tar Heels player Cam Thomas, took place before the 2009 season. So there's a danger North Carolina will have to vacate games from 2009 if players are deemed to have been ineligible.

The NCAA will not penalize UNC for the two wins in which Ramsay participated in 2010, according to UNC.

Q: How long will it take?

Thorp said in October that the investigation may take a year to complete.

There's a chance, too, that the NCAA's investigation of possible improprieties regarding Auburn and quarterback Cam Newton will take immediate precedence and slow the NCAA's progress on UNC.

Auburn is in the national title hunt, and Newton is the leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, so that situation requires immediate attention.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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