CHAPEL HILL — University of North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp offered his most resounding vote of support yet for football coach Butch Davis and athletic director Dick Baddour on Thursday, telling the school's board of trustees the pair will retain their positions for next year.
Thorp praised Davis and Baddour for their handling of the NCAA investigation into the university's football program, later telling reporters that the university had no plans to impose self-sanctions as it awaits word from college athletics' governing body.
Thorp's comments went beyond what he expressed before members of the UNC system's board of governors just two weeks earlier, when he said Davis did not appear to play a role in the violations under investigation. While saying at the time that Davis was not in danger of losing his job, he still questioned why Davis was not more aware of his players' actions. Thursday, Thorp left no doubt that Davis and Baddour will retain their posts.
"They're going to be here next year," Thorp said of Davis and Baddour, "and we're excited about Carolina football. We feel like we've done everything we needed to do on this investigation."
Thorp and Baddour told the trustees the NCAA and the school are close to wrapping up the investigative phase of the probe. NCAA investigators will turn over their findings to the enforcement staff, beginning the NCAA's process of determining what sanctions - if any - UNC will receive.
Baddour acknowledged that he doesn't know how the NCAA will respond.
"I don't know what to tell you on that," Baddour said. "That is out of our control."
Following up on Thorp's comments, Baddour later said that while UNC has no immediate plans to impose self-sanctions, that could change if the NCAA sends UNC a notice of allegations, which is a letter the NCAA sends schools informing them of major rules violations that have taken place.
It's common for schools charged with major rules violations to impose sanctions on themselves in hopes of softening the blow from the NCAA. Such sanctions can include reducing the number of scholarships, withdrawing from postseason play and disciplining staff members involved in violations.
According to documents and interviews, UNC's problems stem from: the impermissible gifts and benefits provided to players by agents and others; the money that former associate head coach John Blake received from sports agent Gary Wichard; and improper academic help provided by tutor Jennifer Wiley.
Earlier this week, Florida lawyer Michael Buckner, who counsels schools on NCAA investigations but who is not involved with UNC, said the school can expect stiff sanctions. He said the case is unique because of the number of athletes who were involved and who were stripped of their eligibility.
Fourteen players have missed at least one game, with seven of them out for the entire season. Four of those players have been banned as permanently ineligible by the NCAA.
Thorp said UNC has found no information that Davis was involved in any of the problems that have surfaced. Appearing before the trustees for the first time in his four years at UNC, Davis addressed the NCAA investigation that began in July.
Davis said he was "embarrassed and saddened and disappointed" about the negative light that has been cast on the football program. The probe has uncovered academic fraud and more than $21,000 in impermissible benefits to players, according to documents released by the NCAA and the school.
Davis said that nothing is more important to him as the head football coach than the integrity of the university.
"I will do absolutely everything in my power to make sure that these things don't happen again," Davis said.
In a telephone interview Thursday night, board of trustees Chairman Bob Winston said he supported Thorp's decision to retain Davis.
"Taking into account all aspects and all the evidence and Coach Davis and what kind of coach we thought he was and what kind of person he was, we believe that it was in the best interest of the program, the university and the student-athletes to continue to have him as coach," said Winston, a key figure in UNC's hiring of Davis.
Thorp said the NCAA has visited UNC's campus seven times and has conducted more than 60 interviews. Those have included interviews with Davis and every member of the football coaching staff.
The N.C. Secretary of State's office, which is investigating possible violations of the state's Uniform Athlete Agent Act, has been on campus twice, Thorp said, and has interviewed Davis. State investigators are trying to determine whether agents broke laws prohibiting them from operating in the state without a license or unlawfully providing benefits to players.
The timetable for the probe remains a mystery to UNC, because it's in the hands of the NCAA. Thorp said last month that it could take a year to resolve.
Thursday, he said the NCAA's options are:
Charging no one with violations.
Charging individuals but not UNC.
Charging UNC (and possibly individuals) with violations.
"The more of that they do, the longer it will take," Thorp said.
As Baddour stood before the university's board of trustees, he turned from the lecturn toward Davis, who was seated at his side.
"You have handled the most difficult times in a dignified and professional manner," Baddour told him. "I believed you were the right fit when we hired you. I continue to believe that. In fact, I believe it even more strongly now."
Baddour explained new procedures UNC will implement to prevent future violations. These include:
Prospective and current staff members will be required to disclose their relationships with sports agents, updating on a yearly basis for current employees.
Hiring an additional employee in the school's NCAA compliance department. This will allow assistant athletic director for compliance Amy Herman to pay more attention to rules education and extra benefit and agent issues.
Changes in the academic support program. A committee has yet to recommend those, but Thorp predicted stronger oversight from the College of Arts and Sciences will be included.
Baddour also issued a public thanks to the UNC football players who have persevered through the dismissals of their teammates, winning six of 10 games heading into Saturday's noon meeting with N.C. State in Chapel Hill.
"I am proud of this team," Baddour said. "I'm especially proud of the seniors and the leaders on this team."
When the trustees called for a recess, Thorp met Davis in the hallway as Davis was leaving the meeting at the Carolina Inn. They shook hands and smiled.
"See you Saturday," Davis said as they parted.
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