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Cause & Effect: Spurrier Opens His Mouth; Local Media Says UNC Should Too

Early during the course of the NCAA's investigation into agent contact at UNC investigators widened the probe to include South Carolina and Alabama. As a result we got a fiery sermon from Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and a half-hearted defense from SCAR coach Steve Spurrier of his TE Weslye Saunders. Because these two coaches talked to the media about something related to the NCAA inquiry it prompted the News and Observer to call for UNC to break its silence despite an NCAA gag order (and the fact neither coach said anything of value.)

Yesterday Steve Spurrier made a comment about John Blake's reputation in response to the Yahoo! article on the Wichard-Blake connection. Like clockwork, Caulton Tudor at the CharRaleigh Observer & Observer renewed the call for UNC to break radio silence.

Regardless of how the NCAA investigation into North Carolina's football program plays out, the school already has taken an image hit, partially because of its unwillingness to publicly address the situation.

Those involved are presumed innocent, of course. But Carolina's unwillingness to get out on front on this issue is taking an unseen but growing toll on the public-opinion front.

An obvious vow of silence goes beyond head coach Butch Davis, associate head coach John Blake, athletic director Dick Baddour and football players Marvin Austin and Greg Little.

Chancellor Holden Thorp has remained disturbingly mum during the entire episode.

This public retreat gives the appearance of stonewalling - a course that only intensifies public anxiety and suspicion. It also makes the school look scared to many and guilty to at least some.

Okay, setting aside the fact the NCAA imposed a gag order on UNC when it opened the investigation, what pray tell does Tudor suggest UNC say to "get in front of the story?" You notice that every time someone says "UNC needs to talk" they offer nothing in the way of suggestions as to what UNC should say? Don't get me wrong. I understand UNC's cone of silence does short term PR damage. It creates a vacuum that is presently being filled by journalists looking for scoops at best and idiot rival fans at worst. At the same time, I am not sure what, if anything, Baddour, Davis, Thorp, Amy Herman, Bill Guthridge or the women's field hockey coach can say that is going to matter at this point. It became crystal clear from day two of this thing that UNC decided full cooperation meant exactly that even at the expense of public opinion which they abdicated to everyone else via the cone of silence.

And this is not the definition of stonewalling because as best as we can tell UNC is being open with the only entity that matters in this situation: the NCAA. The decision to not talk with the media does not mean UNC is not being forthright with the investigators. In fact by all accounts the silence on UNC's part is a key factor in their cooperation. To do otherwise would give the appearance UNC is attempting to publicly undermine the NCAA's work by going against a standing order from the investigators. Not to mention by discussing anything now, UNC would look more inept for reversing a month long policy out the blue.

As for John Blake, again, what can they say? His reputation has been the subject of scrutiny since he showed up in Chapel Hill. Either Butch Davis did not know it or chose to ignore it. At any rate, it is a bed UNC has to lie in for now until they reach a politically convenient point in this fiasco to take action or something comes to light that would give them cause for termination. Chucking Blake over board now is as much a signal of guilt as keeping silent if you adhere to Tudor's interpretation.

Ultimately this is all a gamble. UNC is betting their full cooperation, which includes PR silence, plus the nature of the alleged violations will result in minimal penalties for them. If that is the case then no one will care UNC kept quiet. Then again if this ends up with the 2009 season being vacated, Marvin Austin suspended for the season, Greg Little suspended for a few games and John Blake being shown the door then...well...still no one care UNC kept quiet. This is a short term story being dredged up by journalists who are frustrated by the lack of credible source material for their articles as they compete with online outlets more willing to speculate. Because journalists rely on officials sources, UNC's silence creates a vacuum for traditional media as well as one in the court of public opinio. That means if UNC breaks silence the biggest beneficiary will not be UNC but the media beating their chest for someone to say something they can print.