Newly released UNC records focus on Marvin Austin

acurliss@newsobserver.comNovember 5, 2012 

UNC-Chapel Hill released more than 2,500 pages of documents Monday related to the NCAA inquiry that led to sanctions this year against the football program.

The documents include hundreds of pages of interviews with Marvin Austin, the football star whose tweets from Miami launched the probe, as well as the university’s requests to reinstate players who were suspended, and records from the program’s academic support program related to policies and procedures.

And they show that Austin, now with the NFL’s New York Giants, spoke by phone directly with Gary Wichard, an NFL agent, at a time when agents are prohibited from contacting college players. Wichard’s financial ties to assistant coach John Blake led to Blake’s departure in 2010.

Some of the documents were made public earlier, but with heavy editing that made them indecipherable. A coalition of news media organizations had sued in 2010 seeking the information as the football program came under scrutiny for agent-related and academic problems. A judge ruled in favor of the media coalition.

Monday’s release was expected to be the final large set of information produced about the probe under a settlement to end the lawsuit that UNC reached with the media group, which includes The News & Observer.

“We understand the public’s interest in this case, but from the very beginning, the University’s position has been based on the principle that we have a responsibility to protect the privacy rights of all students, not just student-athletes,” Chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement accompanying the document release.

The documents provide a window into an intense period for UNC as NCAA investigators began looking at Austin and others who had popped up at a pool party attended by NFL players in Miami in May 2010.

Austin was interviewed extensively by NCAA investigators. One of the two interviews spanned two days as investigators repeatedly asked him about trips to South Florida, Southern California and Washington, D.C. The interviews indicate that agents, financial advisers and other businessmen were swarming around Austin, a defensive star who was seen as a first-round draft pick.

Tracking Austin’s trips

Austin at first said a longtime friend and NFL player, Vontae Davis, paid for trips to the Miami area, but later acknowledged it might have been Todd Stewart, whom the NCAA identified as a prospective agent. Austin also acknowledged that Stewart put as much as $1,000 in one of his bank accounts.

Austin said he assumed Stewart was serving as a pass-through from Vontae Davis or his brother, Vernon, another NFL player.

Austin said Kentwan Balmer, another NFL player and former UNC star, helped pay for two trips to Southern California to attend a training camp. But NCAA investigators confronted Austin with a list of phone calls between him and a cell phone belonging to Wichard, who represented Balmer and several other NFL players.

Until his death from cancer, Wichard was also under scrutiny by the N.C. Secretary of State’s office, which administers laws governing agents.

One call was 69 minutes and another was 42 minutes, according to a transcript of the NCAA’s interview with Austin.

Also in the documents:

• A reinstatement request for former player Greg Little, who was banned from play by the NCAA along with teammate Robert Quinn. Records released late last month showed that the university sought to reinstate Quinn with a punishment that was less than the NCAA minimum.

The new records show the university had a similar position with Little, who received cash and gifts from former UNC star Hakeem Nicks and a financial adviser described as a “prospective agent.” The investigation also showed that Little had not told the truth when first interviewed.

Dick Baddour, then UNC’s athletics director, wrote to the NCAA two games into the 2010 football season and acknowledged that the rules required a minimum suspension for Little of 80 percent of the season, according to the new records. Baddour wrote that the punishment would be “unduly harsh.” In a letter to the NCAA on Sept. 24, 2010, he sought a suspension for Little of 60 percent of the season.

Two weeks later, the NCAA declared Little and Quinn permanently ineligible.

• Email messages that show UNC wanted answers as questions swirled around former player Michael McAdoo in early 2011. The NCAA had found that McAdoo received improper help from a tutor and that he received impermissible benefits. UNC wanted him to play again, and sought an answer about whether he could return or would have to enter the NFL draft.

Amy Herman, an assistant athletic director for NCAA compliance at UNC, wrote to the NCAA on Jan. 13, 2011, as the NFL draft deadline approached, saying the deliberations had taken an “extreme amount of time.” An NCAA official wrote her back later that day and relayed that a committee had decided McAdoo would not be eligible to play.

Herman responded that UNC did not “understand how/why it took the Committee a month to come to the decision.”

UNC appealed, and a month later the NCAA made it official that McAdoo’s NCAA football career was over.

Curliss: 919-829-4840

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