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NCAA Sends UNC a Notice of Inquiry

Chancellor Thorp received a letter from the NCAA today, informing him that an investigation has begun into the UNC athletics program. You know, in case he was unclear what all those NCAA guys were doing hanging around Chapel Hill, asking questions. It's a formality, of course, as even the letter makes clear (PDF):

The bylaws also indicate that you may request a meeting with the enforcement staff to discuss the inquiry in more detail. Inasmuch as institutional representatives are already very familiar with the case due to participation in numerous interviews, this meeting seems unnecessary at this time.

Yeah, no kidding. Also, gratuitous use of the word "inasmuch" may have passed the bowl system on the list of Things That Irritate Me About the NCAA.

This doesn't really advance the ball much. The NCAA is now on the hook to provide a status update on the investigation in six months, but as the first paragraph indicates, they hope to have the entire thing wrapped up this month. Which makes this as good a time as any to look back and see how Carolina has conducted itself over the past year. I hadn't given it much thought, but the off-handedly dropped quote in this article started me thinking about it, simply because I disagreed with it so much:

Make no mistake, at times North Carolina has handled the NCAA investigation like Keystone Kops. As the antithesis of the SEC, officials in Chapel Hill welcomed the NCAA with plenty of access. Remember, integrity of the university was at stake and stonewalling the NCAA was not how they do business at UNC. Slight problem, it cost the Tar Heels a potential breakthrough season with a number of player suspensions and an investigation with no foreseeable end thanks to more information gleaned from that access.

North Carolina's best intentions actually showed how ill-prepared they were to handle what the SEC calls a typical day.

Putting aside the strange insulting-to-the-SEC frame – it's not the access to the NCAA that cost UNC their season, it's the people who broke the rules, however trivial those may be in some cases – I never considered UNC's handling of the situation to be all that bad. How well Carolina handled the investigation varies based on who you're considering, be it the NCAA, the team, or the public at large. 

They've handled the NCAA rather well, as far as I can tell since neither organization is going to be forthcoming at this point. Compare that to Ohio State, where Jim Tressel stonewalled and got all of his ineligible players in the bowl game, only to have the truth come out and cost him his job, which even then might not save the university from serious sanctions. (If UNC is hit with a harder penalty than OSU, the NCAA is going what little credibility the have. Which won't mean it won't happen, but Carolina has been infinitely more helpful than their Ohio counterparts.)

Now, UNC has balance this by not handling its players nearly as well. Some of it is the inevitably conflict between the NCAA and the athletes, where Chapel Hill has come down on the side of the guys in suits. Players missed games only to be later cleared of any wrongdoing, and Devon Ramsey almost had his entire football career ended before he was able to prove his innocence. So some players have reasons to be annoyed. Put that with the ax oversight that helped start this mess, and the problems they're still having given Quinton Coples' little jaunt (more on that later) and there obviously needs to be better communication on that front.

With regard to the media and public at-large, UNC could have handled them better – clear, definitive answers will always help – but never as well as the media will like. The NCAA has rather strong opinions about what should and shouldn't be shared about an ongoing investigation, and while the Carolina organization has been admirably leak-tight, this doesn't sell papers, or fill blog posts. Hence lawsuits, where both sides have valid reasons for taking the positions they do, and snarky blogosts comparing the Heels to SEC rulebreakers.

Overall, I think UNC has handled this whole thing about as well as can be expected, after the initial infractions were allowed to happen – which, of course, was grade-A bungling. The Coples thing is infuriating all-around of course. After seeing teammates miss games because of trips pro players invited them on, and the NCAA specifically warning players to avoid draft parties, to take that trip indicates either the most careful planning or reckless obliviousness I've seen from a football player in quite sometime. Things aren't all well in the football program, but now we get to wait for the final report to determine how bad things actually are.