The world surrounding UNC football is still stunned after Thursday night's press conference confirmed the bombshell that dropped earlier in the day - that there was a discovery of academic misconduct within the football program.
Those hoping for answers or at least guidance into where the program can expect to go from here were sorely disappointed. The hopes that the NCAA investigation and strife surrounding Carolina football would be winding down were quickly dashed and an entirely new and deeper wound has been opened.
As a recap, here's what we know at this point: As a part of the ongoing investigation into the possibility of improper contact with agents, something a player said in an interview gave reason to suspect something wasn't right academically. The University, with the NCAA's blessing, has taken the lead in opening a second line of investigation into the academic issues raised by this investigation. The person at the center of the issue is a student tutor who once worked for Butch Davis' family as a tutor for his son Drew, a junior in high school. Baddour noted that the investigation into academics is in its beginning to middle stages and that while they hoped for a quick resolution, it is likely the matter will not be resolved before the season-opening game in just eight days. That's the extent of what was revealed at the press conference. There is plenty of speculation, and we will delve into that later.
Chancellor Holden Thorp looked every bit the leader he is reported to be, quickly getting out front of the issue and reaffirming the University's stand on academic integrity. Thorp, a UNC alumnus himself, said the school will be defined in its response to this issue. Athletic director Dick Baddour, never known as a great communicator, deftly answered questions and refused to let the media back him into a corner or give specifics.
For his part, to me Butch Davis looked shell-shocked. Normally unflappable in both his appearance and his wordsmithing, Davis looked disheveled and, unlike Baddour and Thorp, spoke without prepared remarks. He quickly got to the point of the tutor in question having worked for his family and expressed confusion and disappointment that she would have done what is alleged to have happened. I am no psychoanalyst or body language expert, but I was left with the feeling that Davis was sincere in his remarks.
Baddour remarked that there are now two prongs to the investigation, which we can assume to be 1) the agent investigation and 2) the academic investigation. It was also revealed that UNC, with the blessing of the NCAA, is taking the lead on the academic investigation and has named a team that includes two former faculty athletics representatives and the head of compliance.
Now on to the speculation and analysis:
Some big-name reporters were tweeting some big-name players as being involved in the academic issue, Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Bruce Carter among them. Baddour would offer no specifics as to the number of players or who they were. CBS Sports/AOL Fanhouse writer Will Brinson was reporting that defensive backs Charles Brown and Kendric Burney were involved in the allegations and had been booted from the team. But Burney tweeted last night after the press conference that he would be ready for practice today. Which leads us to another point: we're back to the Wild West of this kind of reporting. We will probably getting a lot of the "So and so works in the equipment room in Woollen Gym and he told my friend's cousin that he saw the football team headed to practice and Bruce Carter wasn't dressed out" kind of information until official details get worked out.
Baddour tried his best to put the genie back in the bottle, admonishing the media emphatically, twice, to not make assumptions about the investigation based on who does or does not play. Nice try, but those are exactly the kind of assumptions that are made. There are no healthy scratches of starters in college football, so if we don't see players on the field that we expected to see, the logical conclusion is that they are part of the investigation.
The depth and breadth of what is going on here remains to be seen. Inside Carolina was reporting between 6-12 players are involved, which is in line with what others have reported. We will have to wait for the results of the investigation to determine whether or not, as the chancellor hopes, this activity is limited.
It appears UNC was really blindsided by this, as it sprang from the other investigation. That is usually what happens when the NCAA comes poking around your program, as looking into one thing leads to another (by the way, this is what has happened at SCAR with the hotel issue). Despite the palpable sanctimony of opposing fan bases, due to the byzantine nature of NCAA rules, you could find a violation at practically any institution you chose to thoroughly investigate. THF and I shared an email comment last night regarding his experiences as a D-I athlete and mine as a college coach and the things that we knew were going on at our respective schools that were generally harmless and part of everyday life but are technically NCAA violations. Those who are rightfully heaping scorn on UNC for this issue still would not want the NCAA to come spend six weeks on their campus, I can promise you.
But in no way does this absolve the players, program, or university from culpability. The stance of this blog, and of most reasonable UNC fans, has always been that if there is impropriety in the program then it must be dealt with and dealt with swiftly. But these concerns raise two important questions: How much of this is Butch Davis directly responsible for, and what exactly is the chancellor going to do?
The jury is still out on Davis in regards to what he knew and when he knew it. The confluence of these two issues, agents and academics, certainly draws questions to the administration of the program. On the other hand, both issues appear to have taken place outside the normal purview of the university. Since the results of Agent-gate have not been released, it is impossible at this time to make an accurate assessment about how much Davis and his staff should have known or how it should have been handled.
As for the tutor, and specifically that she worked for Davis' family, again it is difficult to surmise exactly what that means. Did her work for the coach simply allow her access to players, and from there the impropriety occurred, or is it like the movie Blue Chips where the coach (Nick Nolte) gets his ex-wife (Mary McDonnell) to tutor a top prospect (Shaquille O'Neal) on his SATs so he can qualify to play? Again, if I can play amateur psychologist, it really seemed like Davis was taken aback by this and he made a comment about finding out the tutor's involvement. Sounds to me like he really didn't know anything.
Butch Davis came to UNC with a reputation of having cleaned up a Miami program rife with issues and endured NCAA probation before restoring the Hurricanes to national championship contention. Anyone who has seen the ESPN "30 for 30" episode on "The U" knows that old-school, wild and woolly, party-hearty Canes hold Davis in disdain for shutting down the corruption in the program. I am not willing to jump ship on him just yet, and the chancellor and AD seem to feel the same way.
Again, what Chancellor Thorp will do when faced with the results of both investigations cannot be predicted either. Thorp strikes me as someone who will not put up with anything that diminishes the university, speaking forcefully about the "privilege" of wearing the uniform. He also reportedly met with the team personally to relay his expectations. It was clear that, as soon as the focus changed from a strictly athletic issue to an academic one, the chancellor got right out in front of the situation and displayed the kind of leadership that gives me comfort as a Carolina grad.
In the end, however, we are no closer to any resolution to issues surrounding the football team, and that causes me concern both for the players involved, the team itself, and the university as a whole. But I feel confident Chancellor Thorp will make the right decisions, up to and including blowing up the Enterprise (to use THF's analogy), if warranted, to get this right. And let me state again, those who have failed to follow university or NCAA guidelines must be held accountable. I don't think you'll find any UNC fan who feels otherwise.
Still, Chancellor Thorp made a comment last night that hit home: as someone who loves the university, you just can't believe this kind of thing can happen. Couldn't have said it better myself.