Sorensen: UNC takes a beating on integrity scoreboard

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 14, 2012 

After reading that student-athlete Lance Thomas bought $97,800 worth of jewelry my first thought was: Did Thomas play wide receiver for North Carolina, or was he a defensive back?

Turns out Thomas played for Duke’s 2010 national championship basketball team. Thomas gave a New York jeweler $30,000 and said he’d pay the remaining $67,800. He hasn’t. He also hasn’t explained where he got the $30,000 and the jeweler hasn’t explained why he offered the credit.

I vaguely remember Thomas. So forgive me for getting him mixed up with North Carolina. When something goes bad on a college campus I assume a Tar Heel is involved.

There have been so many transgressions it’s as if the school collects them.

The scandal was supposed to end in July 2011, when North Carolina Chancellor Holden Thorp fired football coach Butch Davis.

Thorp explained the firing in a statement: “I could no longer overlook the fact that what started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at the University’s reputation.”

Chip away?

The integrity North Carolina worked decades to establish has been slammed by a Brokk 800, a 24,890-pound wrecking ball of a machine I found on the Internet while searching for a suitable analogy.

Go to the scorecard.

Butch Davis hired a corrupt college assistant.

Davis’ players mingled with agents.

They received enormous and unauthorized breaks from tutors.

One player turned in a paper he had plagiarized.

Many football and basketball players were guided to courses that all but guaranteed good grades.

The transcript of Julius Peppers, a former Tar Heels football star and basketball player and Carolina Panther, was leaked. If it weren’t for the courses to which so many athletes had been steered, Peppers would not have maintained his eligibility.

Now Matt Kupec, a former North Carolina quarterback who commanded so much respect on campus he was a serious candidate to replace John Swofford as athletic director, has resigned as the school’s chief fundraiser.

Fellow fundraiser Tami Hansbrough also resigned. She is the mother of former Tar Heels star, and current NBA player, Tyler Hansbrough, and former Notre Dame basketball star Ben Hansbrough. She and Kupec were in a relationship.

Kupec and Hansbrough traveled together and perhaps raised funds together in Kentucky and Florida, New York and West Virginia, Connecticut and Charlotte and wherever Ben’s Fighting Irish and, on occasion, Tyler’s Indiana Pacers happened to play.

Maybe it was the adventure of it, the clandestine escape on company money and company time. Maybe the culture under Chancellor Thorp is such that they assumed they were doing nothing wrong. Maybe it was the Marriott points.

Why do these episodes continue to happen to the Tar Heels? Is it because they get more attention, good and bad, than everybody else? Is it because the media hate them?

Or is it because somebody saw a string, something that didn’t fit, and gave it a yank, and pieces have yet to stop falling?

Is there a point at which North Carolina can “no longer overlook the fact that what started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at this university’s reputation?”

Where is it?

And who will be left to make the call?

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