Thirteen North Carolina football players will be suspended by the university for selling school-issued sneakers, the school announced on Monday.
Quarterback Chazz Surratt, who started seven games for UNC last season, is one of them.
Offensive lineman Brian Anderson, defensive end Malik Carney, wide receiver Beau Corrales, defensive end Tomon Fox, defensive end Tyrone Hopper, offensive lineman Quiron Johnson, linebacker Malik Robinson, Surratt and offensive lineman Jordan Tucker will each sit out four games.
Defensive backs Greg Ross and Tre Shaw will miss two games, and quarterback Jack Davidson and offensive lineman Jonah Melton will miss one.
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The NCAA approved a request to stagger some of the suspensions.
“It was just a wrong mistake,” Carney, a senior, said at a press conference in Chapel Hill on Monday. “It was something that it just happened. I wasn’t thinking about it and I just made a wrong decision.”
“In a moment like that you’re not really thinking about consequences. Like as a kid, when your mom tells you don’t touch the iron (because) it’s hot. You just do it. It’s something that you don’t really think about in the moment.”
UNC coach Larry Fedora said he was disappointed upon finding out what his players had done, but he placed some of the blame on himself. He called it a teachable moment.
“I’ve been coaching for over 30 years,” Fedora said. “These are young men. They don’t all make the best decisions every day of their life. That’s our job as coaches is to teach them and to make sure they understand that life is about choices and the choices you make in life, there are consequences to those choices.
“And the choices you make don’t just affect you, they affect other people. Something greater than yourself.”
When asked at the press conference how he would respond to critics who would suggest that the staggered suspensions were not fair, UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said the school felt injury risks justified the decision.
“We had an awful lot of injuries last year, and we knew we were going to have some repair work to do in the offseason,” he said, “and some of the players played the same position, so it would be fair to the kids that are going to play for health and safety reasons.”
According to emails sent by UNC to the NCAA that were obtained by The News & Observer as part of a public records request, the school-issued sneakers were sold in January by 15 players on the football team for as much as $2,500 a pair. It was not clear why only 13 players were disciplined.
According to the emails, Cunningham learned about sale of the shoes, Retro Air Jordan 3’s, on Jan. 12 after a UNC fan sent an email notifying the athletic director that a shoe store was re-selling the shoes. The business had posted the shoes on Instagram.
Request Boutique in Greensboro, which sells men’s and women’s sneakers, was named in the emails. The owner, Gabe Salazar, told The N&O Monday that he didn’t realize he was buying sneakers from student-athletes at the time. He added that he didn’t understand why the student-athletes were being punished.
“I think it’s unfair for the university to give these kids stuff, they aren’t getting paid to play, the school makes millions of dollars off these kids,” Salazar said. “The school gives them stuff for free that has some value, these kids have no money in their pockets to spend on things that sometimes they need. Then they get in trouble for selling an item for free that sometimes they have no use for. It seems like it’s really unfair.”
SirCastleTees, located in Raleigh, was also listed in the emails obtained by The N&O. SirCastleTees specializes in trading and selling customized sneakers.
“The players wanted to sell shoes to us because we buy shoes,” SirCastleTees owner Mike Phillips told The N&O Monday. “We asked them if it was cool with them.”
Phillips told UNC that he had not bought gear from UNC student-athletes in the past, according to the emails. But he mentioned that he had bought school issued shoes from student-athletes at Michigan, University of California Berkely, and Marquette.
On January 13, after the university learned of the violations, all players and staff were required to return the sneakers to the UNC equipment staff. Three of the players sold the sneakers to retail outlets and were unable to get them back.
In the emails, a UNC player listed as S.A. (student-athlete) 9 is said to have sold the sneakers to a boutique for $1,500. S.A. 13 also is said to have sold the sneakers to a boutique for $1,300. Both were cash payments. S.A. 6 is said to have sold his shoes to a footwear store for $2,500 on January 12, 2018. S.A. 1 and S.A. 4 were said to have sold their sneakers for $2,300 and $2,500, respectively, but were able to get a refund once they were made aware this was a violation.
Six student-athletes sold sneakers to teammates, according to the emails.
Phillips confirmed Monday that he purchased sneakers from a player for $2,500.
“That’s a lot of money for one pair of shoes,” Phillips said. “I don’t know why (anyone) is surprised, they gave them shoes that only they would have, you don’t think people would be throwing money in their face?”
On Jan. 16, four days after learning of the sneaker sales, Cunningham and Fedora held a meeting with the players to address the actions. The university required all players to return the shoes. Of the 150 shoes distributed to the football team, including the coaching staff, nine pairs of shoes were not returned.
UNC self-reported the allegations to the NCAA on Feb. 21. They have been deemed a secondary violation.
The news of the violation comes less than a year after the NCAA wrapped up a multiyear investigation into whether many of UNC’s athletes benefited from African American Studies courses that never met and required little work.
UNC was not penalized after the conclusion of the investigation.