Now that it appears UNC has the inside track to finish 1st in the Coastal Division but is ineligible for the ACC Championship Game and a bowl bid, a question first raised last year has become important yet again: Should UNC have self-imposed a bowl ban last season?
This is the question revisited by 99.9 The Fan's Adam Gold in a piece for WRAL SportsFan. Gold argues that if Carolina had held itself out of post-season play in 2011, then it is possible the NCAA would not have imposed a ban on bowl games for 2012. If there was no bowl ban for 2012, the Tar Heels would have the inside track to Charlotte and a shot at a BCS bid.
Gold's article (and the argument for sitting out last year) operates on two main premises: first, that UNC made a tactical error in not imposing a bowl ban on itself last season; and second, that the NCAA would have likely accepted UNC's bowl ban in place of their own. It is hard to do anything beyond speculate on both accounts, but again, based on what was and is known, both of those suppositions are faulty.
As to a mistake not to throw the NCAA a bone with a self-imposed bowl ban, sanctions a school places on itself are kind of like the opening bid in a negotiation. Schools make an initial offer, then the NCAA comes back with something more severe and that's usually it. Based on precedent and based on the advice UNC was receiving from its sources and consultants, a bowl ban from the NCAA appeared unlikely. I'm sure Carolina expected the scholarship reductions and years of probation to be increased, but given the response at the time, I don't think they expected the bowl ban.
The other reach in this argument is whether or not the NCAA would have accepted a self-imposed bowl ban in place of one they handed down. UNC was a test case in the "new sheriff in town" mentality of the NCAA, and remains fairly unique in being given a bowl ban without a finding of lack of institutional control[Ed. note: Ohio State also got a bowl ban without LOIC but that came after the season and after UNC self-imposed..] In other words, given that they went against precedent and off the reservation in barring Carolina from the post-season, I find it hard to believe they would credit UNC for time already served.
Of course, there are a number of situational factors that even make this discussion relevant. First, there is Miami's impending decision on whether or not they will again self-impose a bowl ban for the second straight season, since the NCAA apparently hasn't made a move to rule on their impending infractions case. Given that Miami's case has spread out over two seasons, they might get credit for time served where UNC would not. There is also the perfect storm of Coastastrophe (as so eloquently described each week here at THB by T.H.) that has vaulted UNC to the top of the Coastal standings. And there is the fact that UNC was in the crappiest of bowls last season that makes it easy to say the Heels should have just stayed home and hoped that would appease the NCAA. If UNC had been playing in Atlanta or Orlando (or even DC), there would probably not been as much groundswell for giving up the bowl.
Ultimately, even Gold has to admit "there's no guarantee that skipping out on last year's Independence Bowl would have convinced the NCAA to waive any future post season penalties" but he claims it was worth the risk. I disagree. UNC played their hand with the best available information, and the NCAA exceeded precedent in their punishment. Hindsight is always 20/20 but I don't know if it would have made a difference in this case, and any argument otherwise is simply speculation.