No, despite what you might have read Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning on message boards or Twitter or anywhere else, North Carolina has not received its notice of allegations from the NCAA. Not yet, anyway. Not as of Wednesday.
And so the wait continues for one of the key steps in the NCAA’s investigative process. Not that you might have known as much based on the reaction – or perhaps overreaction – to what Kinston High basketball standout Brandon Ingram said during a nationally-televised interview Tuesday night.
During an interview on ESPNU, Ingram, considered the top uncommitted prospect in his class, spoke about the uncertainty of the ongoing NCAA investigation at North Carolina, which has recruited him with more vigor than perhaps any other school. Ingram said UNC had received “the allegations” from the NCAA, and that it had received those on April 17.
Ingram has followed closely the NCAA investigation, given that UNC has been recruiting him for years. His suitors also include Duke, N.C. State and Kentucky. He’s planning to announce his college decision Monday and, when he does, it will end one of the most highly contested recruiting competitions in recent memory in North Carolina.
Naturally, when Ingram said what he said about UNC receiving “the allegations” people took that to mean that he was saying UNC had received from the NCAA a notice of allegations, which is a document that details violations the NCAA has uncovered during its investigation. The NCAA, after closing its first investigation at UNC in March 2012, reopened its investigation in late June.
Since then, there’s been nothing to do but wait. The UNC administration has been waiting. Coaches, under siege by rival coaches who used the investigation as a means to scare potential recruits away from UNC, have been waiting. Everybody has been waiting.
And so the Ingram sound bite about UNC receiving “the allegations,” which quickly spread, was something like throwing a piece of raw but nutritionally questionable meat to a starving pack of wolves. People devoured the morsel with little regard to the fact that it looked a little off and smelled funny.
If UNC had received its notice of allegations, you can bet with confidence that it would not leak out so that a recruit – regardless of how coveted – would be in a position to break the news four days after the fact. Steve Kirschner, UNC athletic department spokesman, said Wednesday that the university had not received the notice of allegations and that no one knows when it will come. Whenever it does, UNC will have 90 days to respond, which will set off more waiting.
During the ACC’s spring football teleconference, I asked UNC football coach Larry Fedora whether there’d been any update to the NCAA investigation timeline. He said no and added that UNC remains “at the mercy of the NCAA.”
It’s unlikely – OK, it’s basically completely implausible – that Ingram just pulled what he said out of thin air. No one is suggesting that he lied or made it up. What’s more likely, though, is that UNC coach Roy Williams, hopeful as anyone for a quick conclusion to the NCAA investigation, has told Ingram one of two things, or maybe a combination of both:
▪ That UNC was planning to have the notice of allegations by April 17. And/or …
▪ That the notice of allegations will back up Williams’ belief that his program won’t bear the brunt of whatever sanctions are to come.
Specter of unknown
You have to remember that Williams, like pretty much all of his fellow UNC coaches, has been getting hammered on the recruiting trail. Fedora has dealt with this off and on since arriving at UNC in 2012. And during this recruiting cycle, especially, Williams has not only been recruiting against the likes of Duke and Kentucky, but also against an even more formidable adversary: the specter of the unknown.
Successful recruiting can be as much about selling yourself as it is planting doubt about your opponent. And in basketball, at least, UNC can sell itself as well as any school in the country. It has the history and the tradition, the national championships, the long line of NBA players. Duke and Kentucky have those things, too, and they also have this: the ability to plant doubt about UNC’s future.
No one knows what penalties UNC might face and how much, if it all, the men’s basketball program will be penalized for a long-running scheme of bogus African Studies courses that benefited a disproportionate number of athletes. Will UNC lose the 2005 national championship? Will Williams’ team face a postseason ban? Will it lose scholarships?
No one knows. Logically, it follows that the men’s basketball program won’t be punished as severely as, say, the women’s basketball program, which was shown to have a direct link (Jan Boxill) between the team and the suspect classes. There are records that show that Boxill, who was a longtime academic adviser for the women’s basketball team, was directly involved in guiding players to bogus courses and arranging passing grades for players who completed suspect work.
The African Studies paper class case at UNC is nuanced and layered. There is no precedent for the NCAA to use, no history of similar cases because the one at UNC is unique. And so there’s only questions and plenty of speculation about what might happen. There is nothing but a cloud of uncertainty and unknowns – a cloud of junk, Williams might call it.
Top prospects shy away
When I asked Williams in early March about his difficulty in recent seasons in recruiting the best high school prospects – guys like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins and Jahlil Okafor – Williams cited the “junk” surrounding UNC as one of the main hurdles. He said in some cases he can’t even get high-end prospects to visit campus.
Ingram has found himself in the middle of it all. Without question, the thought of playing at UNC interests him. He wouldn’t have been entertaining it for so long otherwise. And without question, the NCAA investigation at UNC – and the question of how it will affect the men’s basketball program – has played a starring role in his recruitment.
The investigation likely comes up every time Williams meets with Ingram. You can imagine what those conversations might be like: questions upon questions without real answers. Which brings us to another question without a real answer: Why did Ingram say anything about UNC receiving “the allegations?”
Ingram’s high school coach, Perry Tyndall, couldn’t be reached Wednesday. UNC isn’t allowed to comment on a recruit. Maybe UNC thought it was going to receive the notice of allegations by April 17 and that day came and went without their receipt. Maybe Williams feels confident enough in what the notice of allegations might contain to reassure Ingram that his future wouldn’t be in doubt if he chose UNC.
Maybe Ingram misunderstood what he heard, or didn’t describe it properly. He’s a high school senior, after all, on the cusp of making the biggest decision of his life. There’s a lot to sort through and a lot going on: all the in-home visits, the conversations with Williams and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky’s John Calipari and others.
And then there’s perhaps the most difficult part of all in his recruitment: making sense of where things stand at UNC, and trying to come up with answers where there’s only questions.