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Breaking Down UNC's Response To The NCAA

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Assuming I can get my brain back on track after reading it.

Since UNC has never face NCAA violations before, this is the first time I have really spent time looking at the process and the documents produced from it. Needless to say it is not easy reading. Making it more difficult to follow at times are the redactions littered all throughout the document. Sometimes you know exactly who the student-athlete in questions and sometimes you play Mad Libs. Still there were a few interesting nuggets, a fair amount of validation of rumors I had heard and a lot of SAT words. Here are the highlights.

  • UNC agreed with eight of the nine allegations. In some of the cases although there was agreement, UNC offered mitigating circumstances to soften the allegation. The one UNC did not agree with the NCAA on was the charge of "failure to monitor social networking." UNC call this "unprecedented" and pointed out that before now, the NCAA had not mandated school monitor social media nor were their bylaws that spoke to "day-to-day" monitoring of student-athletes. UNC position is they should not be charged with something no one really knew compliance offices were supposed to be doing. If UNC can be charged with FTM on social media, then almost every school in the NCAA can be as well. In terms of mitigating factors on agreed to allegations, UNC did note that while they accepted the NCAA's charge on Chris Hawkins, they believe it should be mitigated because no one had reason to believe Hawkins was a problem. This struck me as a bit of a shot back at the NCAA along the same lines of the FTM for social media charge. If the NCAA expects compliance when it comes to an individual or new technology the least they could do was actually tell someone. Because the NCAA believes Hawkins is a lower demon from the Third Circle of Hell, UNC did not outright challenge the allegation concerning him but argued mitigation instead.
  • Jennifer Wiley kept committing violations all the way up to October after the investigation had begun. In August, 2010 Wiley paid off a student-athlete's parking tickets to the tune of over $1700. Speculation holds that student-athlete was Greg Little. Wiley also continued to provide free tutoring to players in September and October 2010 which is shocking on a variety of levels.  For one, Wiley had to know by that point it was wrong and she kept doing. The players probably should have know but they persisted in the relationship. Wiley never cooperated with the investigation despite being repeatedly contacted.
  • UNC argued some mitigation as it related to Deunta Williams and Kendric Burney's violations committed when they visited Omar Brown in California. UNC pointed out the players repaid Brown(and Hawkins) immediately and they simply did not realize sleeping at someone's house constituted a violation. For the rest of the impermissible benefits UNC accepted those without further challenge.
  • John Blake, during the point he cooperated, offered up a variety of reasons as to why Gary Wichard was giving him money including school tuition for his kids, moving expenses and health care for a relative. One interesting aspect of the allegations against Blake comes from the fact the NCAA interview former agent John Luchs. You might recall that Luchs wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated in October, 2010 revealing all sorts of seedy things about his relationship with Gary Wichard and the manner in which Wichard ran his business as it pertained to college football players. The piece contained several nasty details which the NCAA apparently took note of eventually interviewing Luchs. That interview, one with former Oklahoma player Brian Bosworth and former Nebraska assistant coach Marvin Sanders. Quite frankly the case against Blake is a little weak. The payments are circumstantial and the testimony against Blake comes from people with credibility issues. That is not to say Blake is clean, quite the contrary. However as far as evidence goes, the goods on Blake are not all that impressive. In addition to the major violations it was discovered Blake made an illegal recruiting call in 2009 for which UNC self-imposed a one week calling ban for a week in early March.
  • There were two instances where UNC was alerted to something improper but did not quite do enough to address it. One instance involved Wiley who was identified by an anonymous source in April, 2010 as offering free academic assistance. The tipster did not want to be identified or interviewed so all the football administration had to work off of was the initial report. The student-athlete named by the tipster denied any wrongdoing to everyone who would listen, including Butch Davis. It was not until the NCAA investigation got rolling and UNC looked into player emails did they confirm the accusations. In another instance, UNC received information that Marvin Austin was receiving improper benefits. UNC failed to follow-up on this which might have prevented more violations from occurring.
  • It should be noted that Butch Davis' name is scantly mentioned unless it is referring to him as John Blake's supervisor or noting that he talked to a student-athlete about potential allegations. UNC did not list his dismissal as a corrective action probably because he did nothing wrong in the eyes of the NCAA. It's almost like he didn't exist during the period these violations occurred.

Other odds and ends

  • UNC had a system for tracking players leaving town for a long period of time which had to be signed off on by multiple persons including either the head coach or position coach. This form has now morphed into the much maligned sign-out sheet UNC is touting as part of their reforms.
  • Expansion of the compliance staff is a crucial part of UNC's response as well as tightening up academic services with better trained, more experienced tutors. UNC also plans to put a compliance person in the academic support center to address any future compliance issues of an academic nature.
  • UNC went digging through emails during the investigation. Once the Wiley violations came to light via email, UNC expanded the review to all sports at UNC. That expanded inquiry revealed nothing improper according to the administration. According to rumors I have heard, a ridiculous number of man hours was spent going through gigabytes of emails checking for academic issues.
  • Most of the corrective actions are things you would expect as UNC sought to address the various issues that arose. Academic services policies will be overhauled. UNC set forth new agent contact rules, revised various compliance educational materials, introduced enhanced rules for tutoring and increased monitoring. Along those lines UNC will track former athletes in the football facilities and policies have been developed to address social networking. And while we looked at the whole parking ticket fiasco as much ado, UNC is not taking chances with it. Parking Services will now provide the athletic department with biweekly reports of citations issued to student-athletes.
  • As for the sanctions, vacating 2008 and 2009 season wins addresses allegations 1 and 4. The three scholarship reduction for three years addresses allegations 1, 4, 6 and 9. In addition UNC proposed a two year probation and $50,000 fine.

The next step in this process is the committee on infractions hearing where the allegations and UNC's response will be hashed out. Chancellor Holden Thorp, AD Dick Baddour and interim football coach Everett Withers will appear before the committee. The first two we knew about but Wither is a surprise. The NCAA requires the current football coach to attend which means Withers and not Butch Davis which would have been really awkward.

It should be emphasized again that UNC's proposed sanctions are just that, proposed with only the probation going into effect now. The NCAA can either accept them or add their own. What UNC proposed offered is probably not enough for the NCAA so it is assumed the COI will go a bit further. The question is how far? I could see the NCAA going for three years probation instead of two, accepting the vacating of wins and stripping a few more scholarship. The fine is a new element in this process so it is difficult to get a read on that. Georgia Tech was hit with a $100,000 fine for their basketball and football violations which might be a frame of reference if the NCAA believed in them. Ultimately UNC knows the NCAA will want to put their own brand of justice on this so going even higher on the sanctiond scale did not make sense.

One wrinkle in UNC's case is the fact there was a whole season played with players suspended, some of the for no good reason. It is clear from the response UNC plans to make use of mitigating factors but also argue that cooperating and "time served" matter. Unlike most cases, UNC dealt with NCAA issues during the season which means punishment came in pieces. With other schools it is an "after the fact" investigation which leaves only the probation/wins/scholarship sanctions as the only punitive options. In UNC's case you will have that but also extensive player suspensions and bans which crippled a promising season. In other words, one could argue the football program went through a year of probation and essentially played the 2010 season with an 82 scholarship limit instead of 85 because three players ended up counting against the limit but were barred from playing. Because of the personnel attrition due to suspensions you could argue the season was less than it could have been. Couple the 2010 reality with the proposed sanctions, the punishment is not nearly as light as people would have you believe. Still, I expect the NCAA will go the extra mile. As long as that does not include a bowl ban, we can all live with it.