Friday, July 16, 2010

Is UNC the new USC?

Sounds like there's potential trouble in Chapel Hill:
A source at North Carolina told's Joe Schad on Thursday that UNC football players were interviewed by the NCAA this week and asked questions about agents and whether anyone had received gifts or extra benefits.
North Carolina seems like an odd place for violations, but Butch Davis knows how to collect NFL-caliber talent (remember the 2001 and '02 Miami teams?). UNC has a ridiculous six legitimate first-round prospects on defense alone: Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin, Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Kendric Burney and Deunta Williams. When you have talent, the agents will come calling.

The interesting thing is that there was no public report of violations or unusual activity at North Carolina (at least not that I'd heard of). But the NCAA wouldn't just step in and start an investigation without having something to go on.

ESPN provides a little background:

The investigation began with a phone call from the NCAA, Baddour said, though he declined to say when the call came or when investigators had visited the Chapel Hill campus.

A second source said that the NCAA asked all of UNC's projected NFL draft picks to provide phone records so investigators could see which agents they had spoken with.

The players were also asked who paid for the travel, who paid their rent and which agents they had met with and when, according to the second source.

Austin recently tweeted about a trip to Miami.

Both sources used the word "hectic" to describe the agent activity surrounding North Carolina football since multiple players passed on the NFL draft.

A third source, with ties to North Carolina, said that Austin was asked about having been seen driving Kentwan Balmer's vehicle.

Balmer is a former North Carolina defensive end who plays for the 49ers and worked out in Chapel Hill this offseason. Another source said Austin stayed at Balmer's apartment at times this offseason as well.

"Hectic" agent activity, eh? The compliance people at USC would probably recommend nipping that in the bud. That's not something you wanna screw around with, because that's the kind of thing that can really put a school in the NCAA's doghouse. Signing with an agent equals an immediate relinquishing of all eligibility, and since all the aforementioned guys passed up the draft to return for their senior seasons (except for Quinn, who's a junior), I don't think that's what they had mind. Accepting stuff from an agent is also a hardcore violation, although it's one a player can work his way out of if he handles it right.

The Bylaw Blog (which is remarkably informative when it comes to all this NCAA crap) makes an excellent point: Since any impropriety apparently occurred since the end of last season -- and obviously no games have been played yet this season -- nobody could have played while ineligible. If Austin received some free rent from Kentwan Balmer, for example, he could probably just repay that amount and resolve the situation before the start of the season. If an agent paid for a trip to Miami to meet with a representative, that's more of a gray area. There's usually going to be at least some loss of eligibility due to receiving inappropriate benefits.

But until the NCAA announces specifically who or what is being investigated, it's pretty hard to know exactly how serious things might be. Back to the Bylaw Blog:

The biggest question now is which NCAA group was on campus investigating. If members of the enforcement staff were around, then you can bet the NCAA thinks it has something.

If it was the Agents, Gambling and Amateurism staff, things are much murkier. Part of the AGA’s directive is fact-finding and research on agent trends and activities. But the AGA is also an investigative body in enforcement cases. So fact-finding may have turned into a lead, or the AGA could have been checking in on a hotbed of agent activity and decided there was so much activity that it was necessary to ensure violations had not occurred.
So there could be a serious investigation into already-documented inappropriate activity. Or it could simply be research on the number of agents around campus. Or it could be that agents are known to be around campus and the NCAA is just checking to make sure that there haven't been any violations. Figuring out the details is half the fun!

Based on the NCAA's typical time frame, we should find out more in about 2016 ... OK, not really. This is one case where the school needs to know ASAP if anybody's looking at ineligibility, so my guess is that there'll be something at least moderately definitive by the end of August.

As far as long-term impact, I don't have any rooting interest in UNC or any idea whether Butch Davis runs a loose ship (although he definitely cleaned up Miami after Dennis Erickson left), but it'd be a shame if some of the team's best players got the program into a bunch of trouble just as the Heels are finally becoming an ACC contender for the first time since the Mack Brown era.

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