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The Alderaan Scenario

Star Wars analogy!

While it might not seem like it, at some point the NCAA is going to wrap this business up and tell us what's what. The question is what can we reasonably expect from the NCAA. ACC Sports' David Glenn attempts to answer that question:

You’re right. This remains a bit of a guessing game.

However, there is a rule of thumb you can use as a starting point for such matters, whether it’s UNC in this case or anyone else. When it comes to penalties for individuals, the NCAA focuses on what went wrong, and the magnitude of the wrongdoing. When it comes to penalties for schools, the NCAA obviously looks at the magnitude of the problem but also how and why things went wrong.

In the end, if the NCAA believes that a school had sound systems in place — in terms of the structure, culture and supervision in the areas of academics, agents and assistant coaches, for example — the penalties will not be as harsh. On the other hand, if the NCAA ultimately believes that a school essentially invited problems because of a faulty foundation, inadequate safeguards and/or a casual compliance culture, the penalties will be far more severe.

Glenn goes on to say UNC is vulnerable on the agent issue more so than academics(based on what we know.) Glenn then offers some recent examples in an effort to extrapolate what the NCAA might do with UNC on the basis of precedent. Sounds reasonable until you read what Yahoo! Sports Dan Wetzel wrote about the UNC investigation:

The North Carolina investigation isn’t even close to being completed, let alone ruled on, so predicting an outcome should come with an innocent-until-proven-guilty caveat. That said, this isn’t a typical NCAA case since the government is involved and it can compel people in the case to speak (a power the NCAA lacks). Blake’s attorney said he is cooperating fully. The truth is likely to come out here.

If UNC is guilty, the NCAA should be highly motivated to make an example of the Tar Heels’ program. It hits too close to home for anything but a significant response. The NCAA simply can’t tolerate coaches as runners. They need to use this case to at least attempt to scare people straight.

Does that mean the so-called “Death Penalty?” No. Only one program, SMU football, has ever received that penalty. While its technically always on the table for the NCAA infractions committee, UNC is not a repeat offender, is said to be cooperating fully and may be able to place all blame on a single coach.

Significant sanctions, likely even harsher than applied to Southern California this year (30 lost scholarships, two-year bowl ban), would be called for though. UNC lacks the tradition and recruiting base of USC, which makes recovering from penalties difficult. So this could feel like a death penalty for the Tar Heels.

There just aren’t many reasonable defenses a school can make if the runner turns out to be on the university payroll, working out of the university offices, hand in hand with all the other coaches and athletic personnel.

That’s what makes the North Carolina case such a big deal. It has the chance to blow the lid off how agents recruit these budding millionaires and show that college sports isn’t as corrupt the public thinks it is.

It’s worse.

In other words. Precedent doesn't mean jack in this case. The possibility that John Blake was a runner or Marvin Austin was a runner makes this case unique. Anything you thought you knew about how the NCAA handles an agent case  is probably out the window. It does not matter what kind of explanations UNC has for Blake, Austin or anyone else. The NCAA has shown via the designation of Chris Hawkins as an ALC and a four game suspension for Deunta Williams that intent and common sense do not play into their deliberations.

In short, this is the Princess Leia-Governor Tarkin scene from Star Wars. Leia refuses to give up the location of the rebel base so Tarkin decides to demonstrate the Death Star's destructive capability on Leia's home planet of Alderaan. She pleads, objects and ultimately gives a (false)location for the rebel base. Tarkin then proceeds to have Alderaan blown to bits anyway. Why? Probably because he did not really believe Leia but more importantly to prove the point he made earlier when he said "Fear will keep the local systems in line. Fear of this battle station." Leia could have given Tarkin the location of the rebel fleet and told him what time Admiral Ackbar goes to bed, Tarkin was going destroy Alderaan anyway just to make a point.

This is the situation UNC is in with the notable caveat being UNC is probably guilty of actual violations. Dick Baddour has said as much when referring to the players currently being held out. As far as we know Alderaan never did anything overtly wrong except electing Jimmy Smits to the Senate and harboring the force sensitive daughter of Darth Vader for 18 years or so. The general principle is the same and relatively speaking, UNC is a lot like Alderaan when you consider the 50-plus years of NCAA sanctity. None of that matters now just as Alderaan's peaceful attitude and lack of defensive weapons did not matter. As far as Tarkin was concerned, Alderaan was connected to the Rebel Alliance and therefore could be destroyed as an example to others.

For UNC, the whole Blake-Austin-Wichard connection is all the NCAA needs to pull the trigger. The hope all long has been that UNC's cooperation would earn it favor in the penalty phase, a hope that was effectively dashed with the adjudication of the Williams and Burney cases. The NCAA is out for blood. Yes, there are violations, especially among individuals. Those persons should and will be punished. The vibe I am getting from some UNC fans is that the NCAA action will be isolated to just certain players with the program escaping harm. Given the mood of the NCAA, I wouldn't take that bet. The take on this case is you have Blake and Austin who potentially represent a whole new level of corruption that NCAA simply cannot tolerate. And let me again stress, we can make efforts to explain what Blake or Austin or anyone else was doing, perception is reality. The NCAA has enough questionable items sitting entirely too close to one another to comfortably chalk it up to mere coincidence or turn a blind eye. Add to that the fact the NCAA is in crusade mode when it comes to agents, I do not see how UNC escapes a major hit.

Needless to say I have never wanted to be more wrong than I am right now.