DeCock: Davis, Austin survived UNC’s NCAA troubles

March 13, 2012 

There was a time, not too long after North Carolina first found itself entangled with the NCAA, that being a key figure in the scandal seemed to bring about some kind of karmic retribution.

Marvin Austin, the player who did more to bring down the Tar Heels than any other, tore a pectoral muscle and missed the entire NFL season.

Robert Quinn, meanwhile, was sued by his original agent (who was controversially invited to teach a class at UNC) after ditching him for another agency (the one that happens to represent Austin) on the eve of signing his NFL contract.

Butch Davis was fired, at the precise moment when firing him might have made the least sense since the scandal began.

Former assistant coach John Blake disappeared, and except for one bizarro-world interview with Sports Illustrated, has remained hidden. He was even the reason for the long delay, refusing to provide additional info to the NCAA.

Jennifer Wiley, the former tutor, has also been semi-permanently sequestered.

And yet, as the NCAA issued its final judgment on the Tar Heels on Monday, Davis is back in the NFL, as a consultant with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Athletic director Dick Baddour retired into the sunset despite presiding over the football program’s indulgences.

Austin won a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants despite not playing a down, not the first time he’s accepted jewelry he didn’t exactly earn. Quinn, a first-round pick of the St. Louis Rams, had five sacks as a rookie. And Greg Little, another prominent violator of NCAA rules, was second among rookies with 62 catches for the Cleveland Browns.

Only Blake, who received a show-cause order from the NCAA, will bear any lasting sting – the NCAA will keep him out of coaching for three years.

At such a moment, Davis’ legacy seems tenuous indeed: A handful of 8-5 seasons, a spring game on ESPN, the momentum to push through some infrastructure improvements and a culture of noncompliance that took down Davis, Baddour, a professor and a few innocent players along the way – not to mention new coach Larry Fedora, an unwitting victim of a short-sighted decision for which UNC has only itself to blame.

The decision to play in a meaningless bowl game under a lame-duck interim coach last year, instead of self-sanctioning in anticipation of an NCAA ban, will keep the Tar Heels out of a bowl this year, when all those extra practices might have meant something to Fedora. Not to mention the Tar Heels weren’t going to play in the ACC championship game last year, and now have no chance this year.

It doesn’t even matter that the Independence Bowl itself turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for the Tar Heels with a 41-24 loss to Missouri; merely playing in it was just as damaging for the long-term health of the program.

Maybe, with the sanctions handed down, everyone can move on. The Butch Davis Era, all that it was and all that it wasn’t, is officially over. A new regime is in control, of the athletic department and the football program (if not the university). Let the family in-fighting that erupted at last month’s forum on NCAA reform in Chapel Hill finally sputter out.

North Carolina will work itself out from under these sanctions, as so many other programs have. With any luck, the Tar Heels will find as much success as the people who got the school in so much trouble have since.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com, twitter.com/LukeDeCock or (919) 829-8947

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