Commentary

Tudor: Tar Heels now face yet another awkward, uncertain season

ctudor@newsobserver.comAugust 16, 2012 

Former UNC football coach Butch Davis

ROBERT WILLETT — 2010 News &; Observer file photo

It seems eerily ironic now, but the first high-level North Carolina employee to use the phrase “get this behind us and move on” was Butch Davis.

Then the head football coach and in no known danger of losing his job, good name or anything else, Davis went to the ACC football kickoff media interviews in July 2010 determined to take a head-on approach to questions about an NCAA probe into possible impermissible dealings between his players and sports agents.

“It’s my desire to get to the bottom of this thing as fast as humanly possible. Then, we need to do what’s needed to be done to get this behind us and move on,” Davis said.

About a month later, Davis’ top assistant, John Blake, resigned after getting $75,000 in severance.

By the end of July 2011, Davis had been fired and athletic director Dick Baddour had announced his pending retirement.

“Get this behind us” was said several times that day, then again when Everett Withers was hired as interim head coach, then again when Bubba Cunningham was brought aboard to replace Baddour, then again when Larry Fedora was selected to replace Withers, then again when the school and eventually the NCAA announced sanctions.

About a month ago at the 2012 ACC kickoff interviews, Fedora had one prevailing theme.

“We’re at a point that we are moving forward. The team and the players have been moving forward since the sanctions came out. I think the fans don’t want to hear about it,” he said.

“Moving on” has become a lot easier said than done.

It’s clear now that for a third consecutive season, UNC’s football program will operate under a dark cloud and hasn’t yet pulled free of the academic scandal once hidden beneath the agents and gifts news.

The academic record that surfaced these past few days concerning former football/basketball player Julius Peppers potentially represents the most serious and dangerous aspects of the saga.

Peppers’ last college football season was 2001. He was recruited out of Southern Nash High in the mid-1990s by Mack Brown, redshirted under Carl Torbush in 1998 and prospered under the guidance of John Bunting.

If unabated academic irregularities date back that far, the breadth of the scandal is virtually unimaginable but hardly unprecedented.

In the early 1980s, it was learned that Georgia was awarding college course credits to football players in remedial education classes.

The situation became national news when an English professor — Jan Kemp — was fired for failing to give players passing grades in what amounted to grammar-school reading courses. Vilified endlessly by UGA fans, she attempted suicide but eventually was given her teaching job back, plus $1 million by the school.

At UNC, it’s impossible to say when, where or how the academic fraud will end. But somewhere along the line, a few critical questions regarding the African and Afro-American Studies department need to be resolved:

• What was the incentive behind former department head Julius Nyang’oro’s decision to set up bogus courses? Did he just come up with the idea himself and implement it simply because he had a compelling desire to keep athletes eligible?

• When did Nyang’oro initiate his strange class procedures?

• How many players and in how many sports were grades awarded?

For good or bad, the answers to those questions will at least advance the “move-on” mission closer to an end.

But if the history of this UNC situation holds, it’s safe to assume nothing definitive will happen quickly, meaning yet another football season will be played under an awkward canopy of uncertainty.

Tudor: 919-892-8946

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