CHAPEL HILL — An NCAA compliance expert said P.J. Hairston’s use of rental cars linked to Haydn “Fats” Thomas “is very likely an extra benefit” that could lead to a multi-game suspension.
John Infante is a former compliance officer at Colorado State and Loyola-Marymount and author of the popular Bylaw Blog.
“Assuming (Fats) Thomas is not classified as an agent … Hairston is looking at repaying the value of his use of the rental car, and possibly a suspension up to 10 games or so depending on how many days he used the car,” Infante wrote in an email. “This is also assuming that is the extent of the benefits he received.”
Hairston, a UNC junior who led the Tar Heels in scoring last season, was arrested June 5 in Durham while driving a 2013 GMC Yukon rented by Thomas. He was charged with two misdemeanors: marijuana possession and driving without a license. Both charges were dropped Monday. Earlier, Hairston received a speeding ticket in a 2012 Camaro rented by a Thomas associate.
Including taxes, fees and a $165 towing charge, the daily rental rate of the Yukon was $420. The daily rate for the Camaro came to nearly $80. Combined, the charges for the cars came to more than $500 for the two days Hairston drove them.
Hairston was arrested while driving the Yukon on a Wednesday night. He told Durham police that he planned to drive the Yukon to Atlanta for the weekend. “Mr. Hairston stated that ‘Fats’ rented the vehicle for Mr. Hairston because he was planning on traveling to Atlanta this weekend to see some friends,” the Durham police narrative said. The NCAA uses a sliding scale to help determine punishment when an athlete is found to receive impermissible benefits.
Impermissible benefits between $501-$700 can lead to a suspension of 10 percent of an athlete’s season, or three games for a basketball player. Amounts between $701-$1,000 are 20 percent, or six games. Benefits worth more than $1,000 can result in a suspension of 30 percent of the season, or nine games in a 27-game regular season.
The NCAA’s sliding scale isn’t the final word, though, in extra benefits cases. Emily Potter, a spokesperson for the NCAA, wrote in an email that the penalties for extra benefits cases are decided on a “case by case basis” and “mitigating and aggravating factors also are considered.”
To start the process, UNC would have to declare Hairston ineligible for receiving an extra benefit. Then the university would seek his reinstatement through the five-member Division I Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement.
“The staff considers a number of factors including guidelines established by the (committee on reinstatement),” Potter wrote.
Among those factors, according to Potter: The type of violations and the value of benefits, whether a significant competitive advantage was gained through the use of the extra benefit and the responsibility of the athlete for the violations.
UNC hasn’t commented about whether it deems Hairston’s use of rental cars to be an extra benefit, and Steve Kirschner, an athletic department spokesperson, had no comment when reached Wednesday. The NCAA doesn’t comment on ongoing, pending or potential cases.
When it became public that Hairston had used rental cars paid for by another person, it immediately would have raised “red flags” within the UNC compliance department, said Stu Brown, a lawyer with the Indianapolis-based Ice Miller firm, which specializes in helping schools and individuals through NCAA compliance issues. Brown said an internal investigation into Hairston and the rental cars likely would have started immediately.
That investigation, he said, would have begun with the goal of answering several questions: The relationship between Hairston and Thomas, and how it began; whether Hairston received the cars because he’s a prominent athlete; and, among others, the number of days Hairston drove the rental cars.
The extent of Hairston’s relationship with Thomas and how long Hairston used the rental cars will affect the potential consequences he might face from the NCAA. But answers in extra benefits cases can be difficult to come by. A key question in the Hairston case, Brown said, is “Can UNC and the NCAA elicit the cooperation of everybody they would want to talk to?”
Hairston would be compelled to talk because his eligibility is at stake. But UNC might still need answers from Thomas. His lawyer, Randy Griffin, said earlier this week he didn’t know whether Thomas had answered questions from UNC or from the NCAA.
“A lot of times the school and the NCAA have a problem getting people to speak on the record, which then leads to incomplete information,” Brown said. “… And eventually, for want of information, (cases) can go away.”
In addition to whatever consequences Hairston might face from the NCAA, UNC coach Roy Williams in a statement last week said Hairston would face “serious consequences” from the university.
The answers to questions that remain unknown, at least publicly, about his use of rental cars and his relationship with Thomas are likely to decide when he begins playing next season.
Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter