UNC-CH too slow in acting on Hairston

December 27, 2013 

In the end, it was the only decision that made sense.

In fact, the investigation and discussion about the athletic future of UNC-Chapel Hill basketball star P.J. Hairston went on far too long.

Hairston now is off the team, with coaches and athletics officials at long last taking a stand.

For weeks, Coach Roy Williams and his bosses seemed almost to want the controversy surrounding Hairston’s keeping of bad company and his brushes with trouble to resolve itself.

Why they dawdled, why they didn’t act sooner, is known only to them, but it didn’t do the university’s image any good.

After all, this is a school already coping with problems related to athletics.

There were more than two years of uproar over a football program run amok and an academic scandal connected at least in part to athletics.

An academic adiviser program appeared to steer athletes to courses that would help them maintain eligibility but didn’t seem of much academic value.

A chancellor resigned at least in part because of the troubles.

So when Hairston got himself in trouble, largely because of poor personal judgment, the university needed to act more quickly than it did.

Hairston allegedly took too many gifts from a convicted felon named Haydn “Fats” Thomas of Durham, who is said to be connected to the “party scene” with which some athletes apparently are familiar.

Earlier, another basketball player, Leslie McDonald, was reinstated to the team after being cleared by the NCAA, the weak-willed supervisory group for college athletics.

McDonald also, the group determined, had taken almost $2,000 in impermissable benefits from Thomas, mostly from using rental cars connected to Thomas.

It’s true that Hairston is young, and young people make mistakes. But UNC-CH and Williams presumably make athletes aware of the rules and the pitfalls of breaking them. For Hairston, there were too many mistakes, and now he presumably will play basketball in Europe, where he can audition for the National Basketball Association.

A spot there would undoubtedly have been guaranteed had Hairston remained with the Tar Heels and continued as the team’s leading scorer.

The university can’t afford more scandal.

Its boasting of the “Carolina Way” of playing by the rules and setting an example for other schools came home to haunt UNC-CH as embarrassments have rolled out.

What lessons will be learned from this and other episodes?

Will Williams and other coaches hold the reins on players tighter?

Will there be stronger supervision of academic and athletics endeavors?

Will Chancellor Carol Folt also take a stronger hand over the university’s high-profile sports programs?

The answer to all those questions had better be “yes,” or there will be more trouble ahead.

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