Despite disturbing reports by The News & Observer over the last three years regarding athletics and academic scandal at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, some alums and athletics boosters still want to believe theres no real scandal, that the university has been unfairly picked on and that the problems will blow over.
But newly unsealed search warrants from the N.C. Secretary of States investigation into sports agents contacts with UNC athletes have brought in a new and chilling wind, one that is not going to pass quickly.
The documents include new admissions from former UNC football star Marvin Austin. Already named as one of the students favored by bogus courses in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies, Austin told investigators that he received thousands of dollars in cash from a sports agent while he was a student.
The Secretary of States investigator also said in his search warrant application that Patrick Jones, a longtime friend of sports agent Terry Shawn Watson, told him, packages containing cash had been sent to many other student athletes at schools other than UNC-CH. The investigator said Jones couldnt recall how many packages he had sent to North Carolina student athletes, but he did know others had received cash.
The search warrant documents say that Jones said the money was to lure players to sign contracts with Watson, who was trying to land big names in competition with other bigger athlete agents and their companies.
Paying the tabs
The documents from the investigation state that Watson and a go-between paid for hotel rooms in Miami for a couple of other UNC players, Jordan Nix and Robert Quinn, and that those players and others got packages from Watson as well.
The universitys response to the documents was guarded, with Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham saying, It is not appropriate for anyone at the university to comment on the specifics of the Secretary of States investigation of agent activity.
Why is it that officials from the top down at the university seem to need reminders that the university is a public institution, and when something of this magnitude comes to light, it is entirely appropriate for them to comment? To stonewall, to hire expensive private public relations consultants to contain the damage (see below) is what is inappropriate.
Obviously the Secretary of States office, charged with policing the activities of sports agents, will focus on that part of the scandal. But the fact that cash allegedly was flowing to some players and that coaches, including the resigned Butch Davis, and other officials such as former Athletics Director Dick Baddour have downplayed the scope of the problems is appalling, even now, years after the problems started to come to light.
Rules are clear
Yes, the players were young. Yes, some may have needed money. Yes, some may have been naive. But NCAA rules are clear about agents, and university athletics departments around the country have highly paid officials to monitor compliance with rules and extensive academic support organizations to help athletes do their schoolwork. How could activity of this sort have taken place without the word getting around about players getting wads of cash?
Thats one of the questions the university should be asking. And it should be asking them quickly. If anything, the scandal that has embarrassed the university is widening, not fading away. Now looms the possibility that Orange County District Attorney Jim Woodall, whos already investigating payments related to the bogus classes in the African studies department, may have to widen his scope to look into the cash flow to athletes.
Fading away? Hardly. And one cannot help but again invoke the warnings of the late William Friday, the UNC systems founding president, who cautioned for over 20 years that if college athletics programs continued to get bigger, richer and more greedy for glory, a scandal would be inevitable.