North Carolina is still six months away – maybe a little bit more, or less – from the end of an NCAA investigation that drags on, one in which the unknown of it all has become almost as significant, and crippling, as any sanction the university's athletic teams might endure.
There are questions about what penalties might be coming and about what teams might face those penalties. Will some sports be subject to postseason bans or scholarship cuts or both? Will others have victories or championships vacated?
The specter of what could be coming has affected recruiting in men's basketball and football, and likely just about every sport. All the while, Tar Heels football coach Larry Fedora has tried to remain positive, hopeful that his program will avoid significant sanctions.
He and his coaching staff, at least, have shared their confidence with prospects that the football program won't endure serious sanctions, like a postseason ban. Three prospects who recently committed to UNC have said Fedora calmed their concerns about the NCAA investigation.
“You know, I'm a very positive person,” Fedora said Tuesday at the ACC's annual preseason media kickoff. “And so there's plenty of people out there are going to look at the negative side of everything that we do. I'm pretty positive that it's going to turn out good for us.”
The NCAA in the summer of 2014 reopened its investigation at UNC, which in May received the NCAA's Notice of Allegations. The document outlined five major allegations against UNC, including a lack of institutional control, resulting from a paper class scheme that lasted nearly two decades.
The scope of the NOA, though, is broad. The document acknowledges that suspect no-show African- and Afro-American studies courses helped football and men's and women's basketball players remain eligible.
Even so, the NOA doesn't specifically charge football or men's basketball – or anyone associated with those programs – with wrongdoing. That's part of the reason Roy Williams, the men's basketball coach, and Fedora have told prospects that their programs will avoid serious sanctions.
Tomon Fox, a heralded high school linebacker from Georgia, recently committed to UNC after discussing the NCAA case with Fedora and Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director. Fox said he had worried about possible sanctions, but that Fedora quelled his concerns.
“Coach Fedora told me he talked to an attorney – like, football won't be touched by that,” Fox said. “So I was like, all right, that's good to hear.”
NCAA rules prohibit coaches from publicly discussing high school prospects, and so Fedora is unable to comment on what he has told Fox or any other high school player. Even so, Fedora acknowledged that he has shared with prospects the feedback he has received from the university's attorneys.
“Parts of it are accurate,” Fedora said when asked if recruits are correctly relaying what they've been told. “I mean, you know, if five people go watch a wreck and you interview all five of them asking what they saw, every one of them is going to tell you something different. But it's going to all be right.
“There are parts of that that are right. I feel confident that things are going to turn out good, I really do.”
UNC is less than two weeks from the start of the preseason practice. The start of the season is still more than five weeks away.
The unknowns, then, will continue to hang over the season, and questions about what the NCAA Committee on Infractions will decide will endure possibly until next February or March or beyond. It's likely that Fedora and his assistants won't have definitive answers before National Signing Day in February, when prospects sign binding national letters of intent.
Fedora is used to this kind of thing, at least. The questions. The uncertainty.
He has dealt with both since he arrived at UNC in early 2012, believing that UNC's troubles were soon to be in the past.
Fedora said Tuesday that he wasn't worried about speaking too soon – that he wasn't fearful that his positivity now could come back to haunt him later. If he's wrong about what the NCAA might do, and if his program does suffer from the fallout related to the NCAA investigation, he could have to answer to the same players and parents he has reassured in recent weeks.
Fedora didn't waver Tuesday, though, and reiterated his confidence that his program will be OK.
“It's my job to set a vision for our program and where we want to go as a program,” he said. “And that's what I'm doing. And I'm doing that to the best of my ability and to what I know. And so I'm comfortable with what I'm saying and I'm comfortable with what I'm doing. I really am.
“If I wasn't I wouldn't do it, actually. I'm not going to sell my soul.”