UNC puts its football team on probation, forfeits wins

In its response to NCAA allegations, the school also says it will reduce its scholarship allotment.

Staff WriterSeptember 20, 2011 

  • The University of North Carolina self imposed football sanctions on its football program Monday as a result of an NCAA investigation. The penalties were:

    Two years of probation.

    Loss of three scholarships in each of the next three years.

    Vacating all wins in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

    A $50,000 fine.

    What's next?

    UNC is scheduled to appear in front of the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Oct. 28 in Indianapolis. The committee is judge and jury in the case and will decide whether to accept UNC's self sanctions or add to them.

The University of North Carolina has placed its football program on two years probation and vacated wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons as a result of an NCAA investigation into impermissible benefits and academic misconduct.

UNC's response to the NCAA's June 21 Notice of Allegations, which was due Monday and released - with redactions - to the public, detailed the school's self-imposed sanctions. The school also reduced the football program's scholarship allotment by three in each of the next three academic years and fined itself $50,000.

The university's formal response precedes UNC officials' scheduled appearance at an Oct. 28 hearing held by the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis. That committee will decide whether to accept the self-imposed sanctions or to hand out additional penalties against a Tar Heels football program accused of nine major NCAA violations.

During a telephone conference with reporters, UNC athletic director Dick Baddour did not try to predict how the NCAA would respond.

"We were very serious in our approach," Baddour said Monday. "We didn't look at it from the standpoint of trying to figure out what they might do. It was only about what we felt like we should do."

Now in its 16th month, the NCAA's investigation into academic misconduct and impermissible benefits resulted in 14 UNC football players being held out of games in 2010, with seven missing the entire season. Former associate head coach John Blake, who's accused of working for the late agent Gary Wichard while at UNC, resigned at the university's request in September 2010.

Head coach Butch Davis, who was not personally cited in the report, was fired in July as chancellor Holden Thorp grew frustrated with continuing damage to UNC's reputation.

The university's response to the NCAA was drafted with the input of athletic department and university administrators, UNC legal counsel and outside counsel. The 111-page report was drafted by lawyers William King and William Brooks of Birmingham, Ala., who specialize in representing schools charged with NCAA violations.

"We have acknowledged our violations, and we've responded in the way you would expect of this university," Thorp said in a statement. "We think that the sanctions we have proposed accept responsibility and, at the same time, give our current and future student-athletes and coaches every opportunity for success."

Bowls not addressed

Michael Buckner, a Florida-based lawyer who represents schools that run afoul of the NCAA, is not associated with UNC's case, but he said UNC's self-imposed penalties appear appropriate.

Buckner said the big question was whether UNC would impose a postseason ban on bowl-game appearances; Baddour said UNC considered it and decided it was not appropriate. According to Buckner, schools whose current teams don't appear likely to qualify for postseason play often will self impose such a ban for a given year.

But UNC is 3-0 and needs just three wins in nine remaining games this fall to become bowl eligible.

"The other self-imposed penalties seem right in line with what you want to show the committee you're serious without overpenalizing yourself," Buckner said.

The number of scholarships that is appropriate for a school to cut on its own is difficult to determine, Buckner said, because the Committee on Infractions has been inconsistent on that issue.

UNC also outlined corrective measures, including:

Changes in the academic support program for athletes, including adding staff members and hiring more experienced personnel.

Requiring staff members to disclose current or past involvement with agents.

Enhanced education regarding agents, benefits and tutors' assistance, and a more restrictive agent contact policy.

Adding a member to the UNC compliance staff.

UNC's response indicates its agreement with the first eight major charges outlined by the NCAA, except for minor discrepancies involving amounts of benefits. The school also states as a mitigating factor that some benefits were repaid in cash almost immediately, and some were the result of friendships with former UNC players that current players did not think were impermissible.

On the ninth allegation - the university's failure to monitor the conduct and administration of the football program - UNC resists some of the NCAA's charges. Regarding the university's failure to monitor football player use of Twitter and social networking, UNC says the NCAA's constitution and bylaws don't mention any institutional responsibility to monitor athletes' communications "on undefined and ever-multiplying 'social networking' sites."

Baddour said there was significant debate on whether to contest that allegation, but UNC officials ultimately decided they had done what's expected of them. Buckner said he agrees with UNC in contesting that issue but said the NCAA in the past has held schools responsible for monitoring areas that aren't specifically mentioned in legislation.

"I think UNC and other schools are now taken aback because they didn't realize that was an obligation," Buckner said. "It will be interesting to see how the committee treats that."

UNC also argues that its staffers were unaware of former Tar Heels player Chris Hawkins' status as an individual triggering NCAA agent legislation when he was allowed in the football weight room with his friend, former Tar Heels running back Willie Parker. Hawkins was charged with providing $886 in impermissible benefits to UNC players.

New information

Some new information came to light in the report:

In April 2010, UNC received an anonymous tip that tutor Jennifer Wiley provided improper academic assistance to a football player. The player was interviewed three times and repeatedly denied the charge, and the person who provided the tip declined to be interviewed, so UNC was not able to establish that a violation occurred.

Nebraska had staffer and former UNC assistant coach Marvin Sanders attempt to keep Blake from continuing to contact Cornhuskers defensive end Ndamukong Suh after the 2008 season ended. Suh was an underclassman trying to decide whether to enter the NFL draft; the NCAA now charges Blake with working for agent Wichard while at UNC. Sanders said he contacted then-UNC assistant Tommy Thigpen, who later told Sanders he had relayed the message to Blake, according to the report.

UNC has reported four Level II secondary, or minor violations, including an impermissible phone call by Blake, who resigned in September 2010. According to the university, Blake called a football recruit twice in a week when only one call was allowed. The recruit was identified by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer via phone records as Sharrif Floyd, who later signed with Florida.

Baddour said one of his operating principles throughout the investigation has been full cooperation with the NCAA.

"I'm comfortable with the quality of the investigation," Baddour said. "I'm comfortable with the process we used to come up with the penalties that we self imposed. I think they're entirely appropriate."

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

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