I've been kicking around writing a particular post for the past few weeks. The conceit was, "What if John Blake turned out to be innocent?" It was more devil's advocate than anything I truly believed – even at my most contrarian I was more than willing to accept there were shady things going on – but it considering he resigned just in advance of his phone records being released, only to have the investigation immediately refocus on Chris Hawkins, it was a possibility, and worth speculating about just for the irony involved.
Well, no need to speculate any more. John Blake is guilty as hell.
Apparently, UNC's defensive
coordinator line coach (dumb mistake on my part) had good reason to be in near-daily contact with NFL agent Gary Wichard. Forty-five thousand reasons in fact, that being the amount of a loan from Wichard's private bank to Blake. That's in addition to six wire transfers from the same bank, all coming after Blake was named to the UNC staff, and a company credit card from Wichard's management firm issued in Blake's name. This stands in, shall we say, marked contrast to what Wichard said in an earlier interview:
"If the center of this controversy is my relationship with John, there's really no controversy," Wichard said. "If that's what [the NCAA] is investigating, I think it's just absurd. ... I hope - I really, truly hope - that Marvin Austin's whole case is based on me and John Blake. I hope that for Marvin Austin's sake. At the end of the day, there's nothing to investigate."
"No, no, no, no," Wichard said. "John lived [in California] after he was the head coach at Oklahoma. He lived out in [Los Angeles]. We've socialized. We've been friends. His son is my godson. It has nothing to do with that. He hasn't worked for me at all. I don't get where that is coming from."
I think the rest of us get where it's coming from. And there is apparently loads of things to investigate.
Starting, of course, with Marvin Austin, the man who launched a thousand NCAA investigations. Austin's name appears on hotel receipt for a period in the summer of 2009, along with the address and payment information for Wichard's Pro Tect Management. There's a second receipt with Kentwan Balmer's name and the same address from the spring of that same year, coinciding with another trip Austin took to California. There's really only one way to interpret this. Wichard's company illegally paid for Austin's trips that year. Austin is almost certainly done as a college athlete over this, and odds are UNC's 2009 performance will be vacated. (Small upside there. Wiping out that entire season will make it easier to pretend the State and UVa losses never happened.)
Yahoo! doesn't have any evidence of any other players receiving benefits, but we already know Cam Thomas went to California with Austin in 2009, so some of the other players currently suspended may be involved as well. And of course, this could extend to other schools. Here's the current list of Pro Tect clients, which includes C.J. Spiller from Clemson, Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen and two players from Southern Cal.
Tar Heel Fan is calling for Butch Davis to be fired. I haven't made up my mind yet, but it doesn't look good. It takes a lot to be unaware that your defensive coordinator is on the take and players are being flown cross country on someone else's dime. It's feasible – judging by the vehemence in which a lot of big coaches have been castigating agents this summer, you get the impression that many of them are scared this stuff is happening without their knowledge – but the optics are pretty bad. If many players are involved, it's even worse. At this point, the best thing for UNC would be if this was uncovered at lots of schools, among many agents. (Remember, more folks than just Wichard were antsy about these investigations.) That won't wipe the stain on Chapel Hill, though. The program's been tarnished, and is going to suffer for its failings for quite some time.