At this point I know better than to ask if this could get any worse because I know full well it could if it comes out this tutor did something for a basketball player or two.
Just in case you were wondering, vacation was good. Many thanks and much appreciation to Doc for covering this story so thoroughly. The story caught me completely off guard and I spent most of dinner casting furtive glances at my Blackberry hoping Tar Heel Wife would not notice and confiscate the device from me. I stated on Twitter it is very strange to get the story in short blurbs from multiple sources all at once. Doc has done an excellent job of recapping everything that has happened over the past three days. Unlike the agent investigation, UNC decided to turn the lights on and flood the PR zone. With the agent issue, UNC was perfectly willing to cede the PR ground in hopes the situation would be resolve quickly while only affecting a couple of players. The story with Agent-gate is one or two players making a poor decision in regards to the regulations on gifts from former teammates. The hope was that it would be neatly wrapped in time for the start of the season with minimal to no damage for the football program.
This situation is entirely different. The academic reputation of the school is on the line. With that being the case, the "base" as Joe Ovies points out, needs to be placated. UNC has every reason to control the conversation in the PR realm by talking to the local media as much as possible. It would not surprise me to see Dick Baddour and Steve Kirschner talking to media almost daily to either give updates or issue clarifications for stories that might be floating out there. Letting speculation run wild is not going to work with this story thought there is no way UNC can control all the speculation that floats across the internet.
Still, as much as UNC has talked there are many questions left unanswered. The foremost in the eyes of most UNC fans is what to make of Dick Baddour's statement that they are not ruling anything out, including possible spillover into other sports? And by "what to make" I mean "will basketball be affected?!?!?" That has to be the primary concern in Chapel Hill right now and to be honest it sent a chill down my spine when Baddour said everything was in play. Not to play the "it's only football" card but I imagine this investigation into academic issues is being conducted with basketball on the left front burner and football on the right. And if they burn the rice on the right to make sure the chicken is properly cooked on the left, that's what is going to happen.
Also among the questions swirling around has to be the Nixonian one. What did UNC know and when did they know it? According to Baddour, UNC caught mention of this tutor's name in an interview. The context in the interview was non-academic in nature so UNC decided to look into the issue deeper. The question is when was this? During the interviews in early August? The subsequent later interviews? Via transcripts even after that? There is no way of knowing but it is a safe bet UNC started their probe into academic issues before it came to light via Inside Carolina. That means there is the possibility UNC only went public on Thursday because the story was about to break on Inside Carolina. Does that make them wrong? Depends on your point of view. The longer you keep something quiet the easier it is to investigate. Then again the longer you investigate the harder it is to keep it quiet. There is one caveat: It is doubtful Butch Davis would jeopardize preparing his defense for an upcoming game by leaving the starters on the first team for the sake of appearance. That sudden change would seem to indicate UNC did indeed find out on Thursday or more likely the investigation reached a point where they had sufficient actionable information to create eligibility questions. As a side note to this, does the mention of the tutor(or former tutor) in a non-academic sense mean it is possible this individual wrote papers for these players after he employment relationship with UNC ended? Remember the timetable is the tutor worked for the academic support program before Davis arrived then worked for Davis personally after he took the UNC job. It is unclear when the alleged violations occurred or when the tutor stopped working at UNC which is the key evidence.
Finally, the biggest question of all is who is this tutor? Based on information coming from Baddour, the woman in question worked for the academic support program prior to Butch Davis' arrival at UNC. Later she went to work for Davis assisting his son Drew with his academics. Now it turns out she may have written papers for football players making this whole business very strange in a Lifetime Movie of the Week sort of way. Now, I have no idea who this woman is or what her motives may have been for the actions she has allegedly taken in her role as a tutor for UNC football players. She may have been well intentioned and monumentally stupid all at the same time. If the players took her help in this way that are deserve whatever penalties are coming to them. All that being said, it is very weird to have a tutor who allegedly wrote papers for football players to then end up being a tutor for Butch Davis' son. I am not saying she is a stalker but it does have that quality to it in some respects. Added note: Someone has pointed out to me that it is also possible the players took advantage of the tutor putting the responsibility on the players alone.
At the end of the day, I am not sure anyone at UNC much cares about the motives. Baddour and Thorp want to know what happened, who is guilty so they discipline as needed. For UNC, a "win" in all of this is two-fold. First, they need to show they have properly dealt with the issue with appropriate disciplinary actions that satisfies not so much the public's need for blood but rather the Carolina Way constituency. The other side of it is winning the PR battle. For UNC to win that they basically have to look tough on the offenders even if it means a setback in football for this season. More importantly the story has to be that Austin and Little acted without knowledge of the coaches and this was a lone rogue tutor not widespread corruption in the academic support program. If that is truly the story(i.e. the NCAA concludes as much) and UNC can effectively sell it with the NCAA handing down at most one vacated season and a handful of suspensions then Butch Davis survives. Remember, Davis apparently enjoys the support of key academic leaders at UNC which means a implosion of the football program a la NCSU destroying the basketball program in 1989 seems less likely. If that is the case football program survives though the recruiting would take a hit for a period of time. If this ends up being the corrupt actions of a few outside the control of those in authority UNC looks more like a victim. It also becomes a cautionary tale for other programs. If UNC can have a pair of players make mistakes likes this or one tutor aid players in committing academic infractions then it is very much a "this could happen to anyone" situation not intentional malfeasance on the part of Butch Davis, Dick Baddour or anyone else running the programs in Chapel Hill.
However if the NCAA proves whole John Blake-Gary Wichard connection means Blake knew agent contact/gifts were happening and it goes beyond one tutor then heads will roll starting with Davis and possible engulfing Baddour as well. Not to sound all pessimistic but UNC athletics is staring down a potentially nasty end of a fairly big gun. If the facts of the case show one thing, it will do untold damage. If it is indeed localized to one tutor, just football players and some poor decisions by the parties involved that is probably the best we can all hope for at this point. Take the penalties, let the chips fall where they may and for the love of the Old Well move on.