After weeks of living in the NCAA investigation desert where official news was as rare as water, the past two days have been like a virtual downpour of information.
First up, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp and Dick Baddour went in-depth on the academic infractions issue while being interrogated by speaking to the UNC Board of Governors.
The undergraduate tutor linked to North Carolina’s investigation of possible academic misconduct in the football program did not have her contract renewed in the summer of 2009 because “there was too much of a friendship between her and the players,’’ UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp told the university Board of Trustees this morning.
"They're only supposed to do their work inside the [academic] support center," Thorp said in an interview during a break in the trustees' meeting. “If they're getting together outside the academic support center, then the chances are they're doing academic work outside the center."
This morning at the trustees' meeting, Baddour said that the role of a tutor is well-defined, as are the rules for how they may interact with players.
“They are to interact in the academic support center — working on time management, note taking, study skills. We’re not looking to establish any other kind of relationship [between the tutor and athletes]," Baddour said.
“ … When you’re using undergraduates to tutor and mentor, it’s important that things be done in the right context. I really can’t point to anything to say anyone thought it [the relationship between the tutor and players] was improper, you just have to work to be certain the relationships stay as a tutor and a student.
This as much as we have heard about the academic issue at any given point publicly. On Twitter someone attributed the phrase "overzealous fan" to Thorp as he was discussing the tutor. So either the tutor thought she was being helpful or the players took advantage of the friendship. It is possibly both. As for where the investigation stands now, the Daily Tar Heel is saying the committee probing the academic improprieties has turned over their findings to the honor system. WTVD's Mark Armstrong indicated this happened "more than a week ago." The process for adjudicating these issues before the honor court could take some time based on how quickly the student attorney general moves on each case. Dick Baddour said in a letter to Tar Heel fans that because the results of the honor court could affect eligibility of student-athletes, UNC will continue to hold players involved in that prong of the investigation out.
The biggest news item of the day came from Dick Baddour's interview with 99.9 The Fan's David Glenn(audio here) Baddour was forthcoming with details about the Williams and Burney suspensions. The gist of the appeal UNC is filing on behalf of Burney and Williams focuses on the trips to California to visit former UNC player Omar Brown. According to Baddour, UNC will be asking the NCAA to consider as a mitigating factor the intent of the players in taking the trip. Baddour said there was not an intent to break the rules or seek improper benefits. Burney and Williams enjoyed a relationship with Brown and his family having met the former player in Chapel Hill. At Brown's invitation Williams visit twice and Burney once. Baddour said it was always the intention of both players to cover their own expenses and he points to the difference in what they have to repay as evidence they made efforts to reimburse Brown for anything he covered. The problem arises from the NCAA finding some "incidental" items the pair did not cover such as both players staying at Brown's house and visiting Disneyland. The NCAA actually assigned a value to Burney and Williams receiving lodging because they stayed at Brown's house. Yes, really.
Glenn also asked about the relationship Burney had with Chris Hawkins, the ALC who is also connected to the suspension of Georgia WR A.J. Green. Let's just say Baddour's answer on Hawkins was shocking. Remember Hawkins has been cast in the media in the worst light possible. Part of that is the ALC designation from the NCAA(and apparently another school according to Baddour.) The felony drug charge from last year also did not help either. So when Baddour said Hawkins was "recommended" to the players as "someone they could trust" and to act as a mentor, I nearly fell out of my office chair. In fact when Glenn asked about Hawkins, Baddour said "there wasn't that much of that." What does that mean? That Hawkins was not around as much as people thought? That Hawkins role in Burney's suspension was minimal? And who recommended Hawkins to UNC players? Again, I was surprised to hear Baddour basically say he had "confidence the interactions with Chris Hawkins were also well intended." That being said, now it probably not the best time to remind Baddour of good intentions and the road to hell. Given this rather surprising endorsement of Hawkins I am not sure what to make of him. Baddour could simply be deflecting the criticism UNC was negligent to allow Hawkins access to the football team. It still seems like a precarious position to take given the public perception of Hawkins. Speaking of safeguards UNC took to prevent these issues, Baddour said he thought they had done enough. However, he also said hindsight showed some areas they needed to improve such as understanding the motives of people who have access to players as well as tracking players on weekends. Yeah, good luck with that last one.
Now, it should be noted that for as much flack as Baddour has received from some Tar Heel fans over everything from breathing to his handling of these scandals, the way he is addressing this appeal is worth noting. The primary purpose of this interview from Baddour's perspective to create public sympathy for Williams and Burney. Baddour is careful to say he respects the NCAA and makes it clear the issue is with the length of the suspension. However, by revealing the details and painting the picture he painted for David Glenn Baddour is casting the NCAA's punishments of Burney and Williams as unfair. In short, Baddour is saying Burney and Williams are being penalized for having a perfectly legitimate relationship with a former player. Yes, mistakes were made but those mistakes do not match up to the penalties these players received. The details provided in the interview illustrates the NCAA's lack of consistency and common sense. Baddour is also attempting to show this is not a case where UNC players were "dirty" and the program out of control. Instead the players knew their responsibilities, made efforts to fulfill them but missed a some details. Whatever else you might think of Baddour, his handling of this interview was outstanding and showed UNC is more than willing to push the NCAA on the fairness of the penalties based on the circumstances of the case.
One more thing. A lot of freaking good Marcus Wilson being with the NCAA did huh? I was under the impression his presence compromised the whole investigation and meant UNC was going to get off easy. Tell me ABCers, how did that work out?