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Sorting Through The Silly and the Specious of the Weekend

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Conspiracy theories abound once again

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Friday's announcement that UNC has self-reported two more NCAA violations in women's basketball and men's soccer led to some silly theories making their way through the interwebs over the weekend and the revival of a specious argument by everyone's favorite investigative reporter.

Brian covered UNC's report of the violations as well as athletic director Bubba Cunningham's press conference about the issue and how it might impact the UNC's current case with the NCAA, given that the university's response to the notice of allegations was pretty much complete and was to be submitted to the NCAA early this week. The immediate impact would seem to be that it may delay the timeline of the school's appearance before the Committee on Infractions, which meets six times per year. The NCAA will now need to decide whether to amend the NOA and if so, then UNC's response will likely be amended. This would make it difficult for UNC to appear before the COI before the February meeting, with any response coming well after that. In UNC's last appearance before the COI, it took 19 weeks before a ruling was issued.

In sorting through Cunningham's remarks and internet chatter, it would appear the men's soccer violation is essentially procedural, relating to recruiting contacts by an assistant coach and in a vacuum would be noteworthy but potentially not serious. Cunningham seemed particularly peeved by this violation during his press conference. The other violation from women's basketball appears to be more instances of improper academic assistance provided to players by former adviser and faculty member Jan Boxill. Given the reprimand SACS gave to UNC about not telling the whole story, this was probably done out of an abundance of caution and to prevent having to go back and amend things later in the process.

Of course Friday afternoon the ABCers began lining up conspiracy theories about how this delay was engineered to push back UNC's appearance before the COI, thereby postponing any possible sanction for men's basketball until after the upcoming 2015-16 season, when the Tar Heels are expected to be a Final Four contender. This is so ridiculous on its face, given that UNC has made misstep after misstep in this entire process to think they would suddenly be so savvy as to be able to delay NCAA proceedings. The other reason this theory is so profoundly silly is that such a delay also postpones final resolution of this mess into the summer of 2016, possibly blowing up another recruiting season for Roy Williams. The uncertainty of the NCAA situation undoubtedly has hurt Carolina in recruiting. Going forward, men's basketball needs this wrapped up sooner rather than later. UNC has been setting records in institutional fundraising and football recruiting seems to be on the upswing, so really it is basketball that has been paying the price and there would be zero benefit to dragging this thing out one minute further.

The other specious issue that came roaring back to life this weekend, with a major assist from Dan Kane at the News & Observer, is the idea that the women's basketball team and Sylvia Hatchell in particular are being sacrificed to somehow save Roy Williams and the men's team. Ever since the notice of allegations was delivered and women's basketball was specifically mentioned in its own allegation, the general feeling is that Hatchell, who has been UNC's coach since 1986, will not survive once the the NCAA hammer falls. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Cunningham extended the contract of Williams, which was set to expire in 2018, for two years. Cunningham has not extended Hatchell's deal, which also expires in 2018, and that fact has angered many of her supporters as well as her former players.

I readily admit I was among those who had consigned Hatchell to the dustbin, given the weight of the NCAA mess coupled with the mass defections from her program by the outstanding recruiting class of 2013. But other than rampant speculation and the lack of an extension of a contract on which three years still remain, is there any evidence that Hatchell is being scapegoated or sacrificed to save Williams or the men's team?

Let's start with the obvious. Barring something coming out that is not already known, Sylvia Hatchell will not be fired. If UNC's position is to remain consistent that coaches did not know about the paper class scheme, if Roy Williams and Anson Dorrance and Mike Fox didn't know, then Sylvia Hatchell didn't know either. Granted Boxill's involvement changes the scenario for women's basketball but it is unlikely UNC will waver from the "coaches didn't know" mantra.

Second, it is undeniable that the NCAA looked at academic impropriety within women's basketball as provided by Boxill through a different lens than the AFAM assistance provided to football, men's basketball, and other Olympic sports. Agree or disagree, that is how the NCAA made the call, not the university or its administration. This is an inconvenient fact for those like Kane who try to lump this all together in one academic mess and equate how men's basketball is being treated with how women's basketball is being treated.

Speaking of how the sports are being treated and the potential scapegoating of Hatchell, has the media hounded her the way they have Williams? Given that her team was mentioned specifically in its own section in the NOA, have her press conferences been taken over with academic scandal questions like Williams' have? Have localregional, and national writers penned pieces about how Hatchell should be let go the way those were written about Williams? Apparently having someone write a piece saying you should go is a sign you are being scapegoated, as Kane mentions Art Chansky's call for Hatchell to leave gracefully while ignoring the same calls for Williams' job. (Chansky also calls for the elimination of UNC's wrestling program in the same piece but let's stick to the narrative, shall we?)

And no, it's not a war on women coaches, as Kane quotes a professor and women's sports advocate as tweeting, given that Cunningham also extended women's lacrosse coach Jenny Levy and women's tennis coach Brian Kalbas at the same time Williams was extended, although those coaches got three years added to their deals while Williams only got two.

So again the question remains: What is the actual evidence that Hatchell and women's basketball are being sacrificed or scapegoated, besides an unflattering article by Chansky? The biggest hang-up seems to be the lack of a contract extension, but perhaps that has as much to do with the general state of Hatchell's program as the NCAA issues. Of the four transfers from the 2013 class, only one has admitted the possibility of NCAA sanction entered into her decision (though it may have been a factor in two others). Only twice in the past seven seasons has Hatchell's team finished higher than 5th in the ACC. Hatchell has managed to hang on to two incoming McDonald's All-Americans for this season, so maybe Cunningham will reconsider an extension closer to the end of her deal.

None of this is to say that Hatchell won't be urged, to use Chansky's term, to leave gracefully once the NCAA finally rules. But I would make the argument that, quite the opposite from being scapegoated, Hatchell has gotten off fairly easily in having to answer for the allegations involving her program. Nowhere are there signs from ABCers saying "Sylvia knew", nor are reporters pressing her for what she knew and when she knew it, nor are they connecting the dots between Boxill and Mary Willingham like Kane does with men's basketball academic adviser Burgess McSwain and AFAM administrator Debby Crowder.

In the end, it would seem hyper-partisanship drives so much of the view of the scandal and Hatchell's place in it. ABCers, truthers, and the Kanes of the world can't get over the fact that it appears (for now) sanction will be light for men's basketball (and football and every other sport at UNC for that matter), no how much they don't want that to be so. And for true bluers, they can't get past the fact that men's basketball benefited from the scheme and their pristine visions of the program and yes, the arrogance that comes from thinking you are above such things, makes for quite a fall from the pedestal. But whether the UNC Icarus flew too close to the sun or not, it doesn't change the fact that the NCAA sees women's basketball differently than any other sport at UNC and will likely sanction it accordingly.