While we wait for some resolution for P.J. Hairston's status at UNC, Harold Gutmann of the Durham Herald-Sun caught up with everyone's favorite expert on NCAA enforcement, John Infante, to get an idea of what actions the NCAA might take.
John Infante, an expert on NCAA compliance issues and the author of the Bylaw Blog, said the basic rule is that an athlete cannot accept anything that’s not available to the general public.
There are exceptions – for instance, if the athlete receives something from a person he or she had a pre-existing relationship with that the NCAA recognizes, such as a family member – but Thomas, 39, denies having a prior connection with the 20-year-old Hairston.
Infante said that, assuming nothing else comes out, he expects Hairston to have to pay the value of the rental car for the time he used it to charity as restitution, and also sit out a few games at the start of the season.
Former N.C. State player C.J. Leslie had to pay back $410 and sit out the first three games of last season after a friend had let Leslie borrow his car for a week, a benefit the NCAA valued at $150, and also paid $260 in apartment fees for Leslie’s half-brother.
Farrington rented the Camaro for 54 days and was charged $3,249. It’s still unclear how long Hairston had the car for, and Farrington did not respond to requests for comment.
“Unless you’re getting into thousands of dollars, it shouldn’t be more than a 10-20 percent penalty, which is somewhere from 3-6 games,” Infante said.
Before anyone pops the champagne, there are a couple of caveats with this. First of all, 3-6 games assumes Hairston is only connected to the two rentals we know about, they weren't for his exclusive use and therefore he is on the hook for simply "borrowing" them. While there is presently no evidence Hairston is connected to other cars or used it beyond the two incidents in question it is certainly a possibility. Even more so when you factor in two UNC parking tickets issued to the Camaro tied to Hairston going back to April. If the NCAA finds Hairston was using the car frequently or almost exclusively then a huge suspension or permanent ineligibility is on the table.
The other issue is whether the NCAA will explore institutional compliance angles. Should UNC have known about this or taken action to keep Hairston or anyone else away from Haydn Thomas? In addition to that question did UNC, which the NCAA dinged with a failure to monitor social media charge during the football scandal, do enough to keep an eye on social media interactions between Hairston, Leslie McDonald and Thomas. Infante in a Twitter conversation with ACC Sports editor Jim Young says that probably isn't an issue here based on the current information.
This is somewhat confusing since people assume when the NCAA says a school should "monitor" social media that means they should look at everything posted on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. According to Infante that is not necessarily the case. UNC's trouble came from someone alerting them to improper benefits on a player Twitter account and UNC not following up. In other words, the NCAA knows you can't monitor everything but you are responsible to keep an eye on it if an issue arises.
Obviously it remains to be seen how much the NCAA will dig into this and if they do whether it becomes an institutional case or is simply focused on Hairston. There have been plenty of examples of NCAA action against one player. NC State's C.J. Leslie was suspended two years ago for using a car that wasn't his. UCLA's Shabazz Muhammed and Kansas' Josh Selby both were suspended multiple games for taking improper benefits, however that was before enrolling at their schools. It is unclear if the NCAA approaches players who are already under the jurisdiction of school compliance differently or if UNC's previous troubles have any bearing on what the NCAA might do in this case.