Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Chapter Four

Chapter Four
McAdoo’s plagiarism; Butch Davis fired

            In late May of 2011, with the release of its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA only weeks away, UNC players continued to put themselves in the negative spotlight of the news.  According to an article by The Daily Tar Heel, the NCAA was back on the school’s campus on May 18 to interview football player Quinton Coples.  He had been seen in pictures of a post-NFL draft party he attended in Washington, DC, and the NCAA had questions about trip-related expenses.  Coples had previously shown up throughout Associate Head Coach John Blake’s phone records, and often in close proximity to calls to or from individuals involved in activities that were under scrutiny by the NCAA.  Whether the collegiate association was ever made aware of that phone information, however, is unknown.  Most of that revealing data had been previously exposed via the website.
            According to the Daily Tar Heel article, the school had instituted an internal policy in 2010 that dictated UNC football players to sign out before they left campus to go on trips.  Kevin Best, spokesman of the football program at the time, declined to comment on the specifics of whether or not Coples signed out when he attended the post-NFL draft party in April.  Washington, DC, was also the location of two of Marvin Austin’s trips that drew the scrutiny of the NCAA.  Coples would ultimately avoid any NCAA penalties.  He would go on to be a first round draft pick in 2012, going 16th overall to the New York Jets.  He signed a four-year contract worth $8.8 million on May 17, 2012.
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            On June 21, 2011, UNC received their Notice of Allegations (NOA) from the NCAA.  This was essentially the list of transgressions that the NCAA was saying the university had committed, and the school then had 90 days to respond to those claims before penalties were handed down.  Within the NOA was outlined numerous “potential major violations,” according to articles released by ESPN and the Associated Press.  Those included unethical conduct by a former assistant coach (John Blake) as well as failure to adequately monitor the conduct of former and current players.
            The NOA discussed the various players who had received improper benefits, and also attached dollar values to those benefits.  As mentioned in earlier chapters, the eventual 2013 revelations about Greg Little and Jennifer Wiley (Thompson) proved that the NCAA only had a fraction of those figures correct.  Wiley was also cited in the NOA for refusing to cooperate with the investigation.  Another notable aspect was that the school was also penalized for failing to monitor “social media activity” of the football team in 2010.  Despite these clear explanations of the school’s shortcomings, the lack of social media monitoring would ultimately continue for the university, and would eventually spread to the basketball program in the years to follow.
            Chancellor Holden Thorp said in a statement, “I deeply regret that Carolina is in this position.  We made mistakes, and we have to face that. …  We will emerge with a stronger athletic program, and we will restore confidence in Carolina football.”  During the timespan that marked the beginning of the scandal and the release of the NOA, one of the supplementary figures – NFL agent Gary Wichard – died in March 2011 from complications due to diabetes and pancreatic cancer.
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            During the first week of July 2011, football player Michael McAdoo filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to lift his permanent NCAA ban which had been handed down the previous year.  According to a article, the association’s judicial system found him guilty of infractions serious enough to warrant a permanent ban, but McAdoo and his lawyers disagreed.  The lawsuit claimed that McAdoo was “improperly and unjustly declared ineligible to play intercollegiate athletics by Defendant NCAA.”  His attorney was Noah Huffstetler, who received his undergraduate degree from UNC in 1973 and his law degree from the institution in 1976.
            The previous year’s NCAA investigation had found McAdoo guilty of accepting $110 in improper benefits, and that he also committed three instances of academic fraud related to parts of a paper actually being written by tutor Jennifer Wiley.  Evidence of the academic fraud – which reportedly consisted of Wiley adding citations and composing a works cited page – were not uncovered by the NCAA, but rather by the university.  The school’s Honor Court, however, determined there was not enough evidence to charge McAdoo with one of the three counts and found him not guilty of another, according to the same article.  According to the lawsuit, none of this was taken into account by the NCAA prior to their ruling.
            According to the university’s website, “The Undergraduate Honor Court is comprised of Undergraduate students from all backgrounds and majors.  Court members represent the values and diversity that makes Carolina special. The Court is charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct to determine if the Honor Code was violated.  If the Court determines a violation has occurred, it will impose a disciplinary sanction consistent with community values and University guidelines.”   At the time, many in the sports media realm felt McAdoo had a fairly strong case for reinstatement.  However, new evidence would surface just days later that would change all of that – and ultimately alter the landscape of UNC’s ongoing scandal as well.
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            When Michael McAdoo’s attorney filed the suit, one important addition was part of the proceedings: the research paper in question was included as evidence.  The Raleigh News and Observer posted the various attached exhibits on its website, and members of the N.C. State website started to look through them.  This wasn’t the website’s first foray into their rival’s scandal; as mentioned in the chapter’s opening paragraph, members of its message board had earlier meticulously dissected the phone records of John Blake, uncovering a number of trends and violations that would later be recognized by sports writers as well as presumably the NCAA.  This time, members descended upon the research paper and quickly made a startling discovery: the vast majority of it was plagiarized, and often lifted word-for-word from various internet sources.  One section in particular came from a book originally published in 1911, and included terms and expressions that had been obsolete (when describing the paper’s topic) for years.
            McAdoo’s suit instantly became more of a challenge, since according to a article posted on July 8, 2011, the NCAA would likely view a plagiarized paper much more seriously that simply having a tutor reformat the citations.  Other problems on the university’s side were also exposed.  Namely, why didn’t the paper’s original professor discover the plagiarism, considering that it only took some rival fans using Google a few minutes to unearth it?  Furthermore, why was the school’s Honor Court unable to detect it?  And finally, Athletics Director Dick Baddour had also publicly supported McAdoo a few days earlier, saying the paper was the student’s own work.  This was obviously just an assumption by Baddour, or else it was something he was told by other factions within the university and he accepted as fact.
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            A distinction that an organization never wants is having the full attention of a newspaper’s investigative reporter, especially a capable and talented one.  With the discovery of the McAdoo plagiarism, that is exactly what would begin to happen in Chapel Hill.  The Raleigh News and Observer’s Dan Kane began to focus his efforts on the story – not just on McAdoo, but on the academic and athletic issues within the university as a whole.  A graduate of St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, Kane had joined the N&O staff in 1997, and became a part of its prestigious investigative team in April 2009.  His journalistic efforts had been recognized with several awards in the past.
In a July 17, 2011, article, Kane reiterated that the professor and the Honor Court missed the plagiarism, as did the involved factions of UNC’s athletics department (academic support personnel, and even Dick Baddour).  Kane also pointed out another party that apparently missed it prior to McAdoo’s case going to trial: the NCAA.  He went on to list another piece of information about the blossoming case that at the time seemed like a simple footnote, but would eventually lead to issues of monumental proportions.  The professor who assigned the paper to McAdoo was Julius Nyang’oro, who was also the chairman of UNC’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM).  He was out of the country at the time of Kane’s article and could not be reached for comment.  His name and actions, however, would surface many more times in the future.
            UNC history professor Jay Smith, who will be covered in more detail in a later chapter, said at the time that he was not surprised the school’s Honor Court missed McAdoo’s plagiarism.  He had been arguing for two years that the Honor Court system failed to get at the heart of the misconduct.  Smith said he became a critic when he turned in a student for plagiarizing a paper in 2009.  He said the Honor Court’s prosecutor did not provide the correct evidence at the hearing, overlooking key information that Smith had clearly provided.  The experience convinced Smith that students do not have the time or experience to handle complex misconduct cases. 
            The comment Professor Smith made regarding students being unprepared for that type of authority may be understandable.  But how does that explain the professor missing McAdoo’s offenses?  And the athletics department, and the athletics director?  Smith went on to say in the News and Observer article that when an athletics department relies on the Honor Court to determine facts crucial to a key football player’s eligibility, that puts the university’s academic integrity at great risk.  Student athletes on UNC’s basketball and football teams help the university collect millions of dollars in television rights, ticket sales, and licensing fees, creating pressure to keep athletes eligible.  The athletics department puts “UNC’s credibility on the line without apparently doing the due diligence on the basic facts of the case,” he said, “and I think that’s a very serious problem.”
            To further highlight the point, Smith indicated that earlier in 2011 he had surveyed members of the faculty about the Honor Court.  One surprising find was that many faculty said they do not use the system, and reasons varied.  Many felt that the court was being too lenient on cheaters, and several key responses suggested preferential treatment for student athletes by UNC officials or the Honor Court.  One of the faculty responders wrote, “The evidence of cheating could not have been more obvious, and the excuse given was completely implausible.  Also, this case dealt with a student athlete, and I found the interventions from the athletics department asking that the case not be brought before the honor court unethical.”
            A related effect of the McAdoo case was the attention given to the site, and a somewhat begrudged acceptance by the media of the effectiveness of some of the site’s members.  The site had made other discoveries in the past, but not until the McAdoo plagiarism incident were those findings prominently featured in the mainstream media.  The poster at the heart of the McAdoo case would actually be featured in an article on the respected Poynter website.  He was quoted under a username, as his real name was withheld in the article by request.  One of the main points of the feature was that important news was initially broken on a fan internet site, and then only afterwards did expanding media coverage of the event follow.  Unfortunately for UNC, this trend would repeat itself several times in the future – with each successive story having a bigger and bigger impact.
            Michael McAdoo’s case would eventually be dismissed, and he remained ineligible to play collegiate sports.  Many sports journalists felt those ultimate decisions were in part due to the discovery of the plagiarism.  Paul Sun, the attorney who represented the NCAA in the suit, said that the association “correctly and fairly” applied its rules in the case.  McAdoo would eventually be signed by the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in August 2011.  He tore his Achilles tendon during the summer of 2012, which forced him to miss the entire NFL season that year.  He was released by the Ravens a year later, and signed with Winnipeg of the Canadian Football League in late 2013.  McAdoo gave an interview with the New York Times that was published in 2013, and which will be covered in more detail in a later chapter.  Part of the topic dealt with academic cheating and irregularities, and also the educational restrictions that schools sometimes placed on athletes.  McAdoo was quoted as saying, “I would still like to get a college degree someday, but not at the University of North Carolina.  They just wasted my time.”
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            On July 27, 2011, less than three weeks after the discovery of McAdoo’s plagiarism, the university fired head football coach Butch Davis.  According to articles released at the time by, Davis had apparently survived the most dangerous days of the NCAA’s investigation, as he had lead the previous year’s suspension-decimated team to eight wins and a bowl victory.  However, the school’s administration would eventually alter its opinion, saying that the turmoil caused by the investigation was doing too much damage to the university’s reputation.  In a direct quote from Chancellor Holden Thorp, he said he had “lost confidence in (the school’s) ability to come through this without harming the way people think of this institution.”  He continued by saying that “our academic integrity is paramount, and we must work diligently to protect it.  The only way to move forward and put this behind us is to make a change.” 
With football’s late-summer training camp just over a week away, the team now found itself without a clear figurehead.  After his firing, Davis said “I can honestly say I leave with the full confidence that I have done nothing wrong.  I was the head coach and I realize the responsibility that comes with that role.  But I was not personally involved in, nor aware of, any actions that prompted the NCAA investigation.”
            Holden Thorp and Dick Baddour both spoke at a news conference held on the following day.  Several questions were raised by reporters with regards to the payout that Davis would receive.  Chancellor Thorp indicated that it would cost $2.7 million, at which time a reporter pointed out that if it was determined Davis was fired “with cause” it would potentially cost the school nothing, according to the contract that Davis signed.  Thorp replied, “I’ve reached the conclusion that even though this is a terrible time, that the athletics program will need to pay whatever it is that we need to pay to make the separation happen.”  In a quick follow-up question regarding the wording of the contract, Thorp made clear that the school would not be dismissing Davis “for cause.” 
Roughly ten minutes later and after a number of other questions and topics were posed, attention was once again turned to the topic of Davis’s contract.  A third reporter revived the line of questioning with Thorp:  “Chancellor, you were talking about the reputation of the university.  And given the budget crisis of the university… you’re saying that you’re not going to fire (Davis) for cause.  I have his contract right in front of me.  It says, ‘serious disrespect for the integrity and ethics of the university’.  Given the crisis financially that you’re in, what would motivate you to pay him to go away?”  To which Thorp responded, “As I said earlier, that is what has made this a difficult decision.  Any money that is paid to Coach Davis will be from the athletics department, not general support funds for the university.  As I said, that is the conclusion that we have come to with extensive consultation.  With lots of folks.”  Later dissection by the media of the contract’s wording would indicate that the university could, in fact, have fired Davis “with cause.”  Why they did not is unclear.
An interesting subplot to the timing of Davis’s firing was that Thorp’s decision came the day that a new university Board of Trustees chairman was elected.  According to a article published on July 28, 2011, former Chairman Bob Winston had long been known as a Davis supporter.  He had served as chairman since 2009, and Winston and UNC administrators had shown their support of Davis numerous times during that time span.  On the day that Wade Hargrove replaced Winston as chairman, however, the tone of the discussions regarding Davis obviously changed while the trustees were meeting in a closed session.  The culminating result was the ultimate firing of Davis.
            An ongoing matter that had been discussed in the media for weeks leading up to the firing had been the personal cell phone records of Davis.  Despite being issued a university-supplied cell phone, Davis had made virtually zero calls on it during his years with the school, instead opting to use his personal cell phone.  After the phone records of John Blake showed a number of NCAA-related violations, the media had long been after the records of Davis, as well.  Even though the phone records in question were for his personal cell, the fact that Davis used it for university business seemingly made them public record.  The matter had been contended by Davis, and was at the time of his firing still in limbo.  At the news conference a reporter asked Thorp how the firing of Davis would affect the pending release of his personal cell phone records which had tentatively been scheduled to happen in the coming weeks.  The question to Thorp was, “Are you still planning on releasing the private cell phone records of Butch Davis?  I know he was in the process of redacting them.”  To which Thorp replied, “That’s up to Coach Davis”.  As it would turn out, once Davis was fired from the university then UNC absolved itself from the equation.  The records would go on to be entangled in legal proceedings for more than a year.
            At the same news conference discussing the firing of Butch Davis, another big announcement was made.  It was revealed that Athletics Director Dick Baddour would be stepping down as soon as a replacement could be found.  Baddour had been part of the Tar Heel “family” for 45 years, and had held the position of athletics director for the past 14.  Prior to that, he had been the senior associate of UNC’s former athletics director, John Swofford.  When Swofford left to become Commissioner of the ACC (a title he still held during UNC’s scandal) in 1997, Baddour took over as athletics director.  With the firing of Butch Davis and the announced retirement/resignation of Dick Baddour, and adding to the previous resignation of John Blake, the number of jobs directly affected by the scandal – which included firings, resignations, retirements, and transfers within the university – now stood at three.  That number would continue to rise.
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            Reactions to the firing of Davis were mixed.  Numerous former players took to the social media airways in support of Davis, while select other individuals who were in some way professionally or financially connected to the school supported Thorp and his decision.  According to an article on, Hannah Gage, a member of the Board of Governors and a UNC graduate, said, “It wasn’t an easy decision, but I believe it’s the right decision for the university.  The Chancellor made it clear today that he’s not willing to compromise the university’s academic integrity or its reputation.” 
            University President Tom Ross, a graduate of UNC’s School of Law, supported Thorp’s decision.  He said, “This has been a difficult decision for the Chancellor, but I am pleased that he made the decision only after receiving and studying all of the facts so that he would both be fair to the individuals involved and look out for the best interests of the University.  He believes deeply in academic integrity and understands that academic integrity and a successful athletics program are both achievable simultaneously.  For this to happen, he has now concluded that a change in the football program is necessary.”  The comments by both Gage and Ross speak to high academic standards and an uncompromising attitude by the school.  Those comments would be viewed under a different and more hypocritical light in the near future, however, as much more serious academic issues would arise – and UNC would ultimately not act with such an uncompromising and fact-seeking attitude when basketball was involved in the allegations.
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            Several weeks following the termination of Butch Davis, one final troubling story related to him (other than the eventual release of his phone records) would see the light of day.  In an online article by local ABC affiliate WTVD on August 17, 2011, it was revealed that a UNC police officer had responded to an on-campus crash involving several of the school’s football players.  On May 29, 2011, Sergeant Shawn Smith was the investigating officer of the accident in question.  Smith had also been the assigned personal officer to coach Butch Davis during home and away football games, according to the news station.
            The article said that football player Herman Davidson crashed a vehicle that also included players Carl Gaskins, Jr., Dion Guy, and Ebele Okakpu as passengers.  The police report indicated that Davidson had alcohol on his breath, but was not impaired.  The initial report said the car was traveling the speed limit at the time of the crash.  Nearly 16 hours later, however, the report was changed to say the car was going 45 mph in a 25 mph zone.  Davidson only received a citation for not having a driver’s license.  He was not issued a speeding ticket, and none of the players were taken into custody.  The crash caused $18,000 in damage to the car Davidson was driving, which belonged to Okakpu’s father.
            UNC said that Smith resigned on July 15, 2011, six weeks after the crash.  The school did not indicate to WTVD if the crash led to his resignation.  Smith denied a cover-up, but when asked about his resignation he told the station’s I-Team it was a “self-inflicted wound” and a “hard lesson learned.”  The former officer claimed on his Twitter page (@Tar_Heel_Smitty) to be “the BIGGEST Tar Heel fan in existence!”  He said, “I let my love for UNC interfere with real life and I paid the price.”  The athletics department told the station that it was aware of the crash, and that the players had been disciplined by then football coach Davis.
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The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- How did Michael McAdoo’s professor miss the plagiarism?  How did the Honor Court and the school’s athletics director miss it?  Was it a case (amongst one or more of those entities) of simply choosing to not notice/acknowledge it?
-- Based on faculty survey responses, how long had UNC athletes possibly been receiving preferential treatment in the school’s Honor Court system?

-- Why would the school choose to pay fired head coach Butch Davis $2.7 million when apparently they had the legal right to withhold that money?  What would be the advantage to “pay him to go away?”  And was this decision in any way related to the impending release of his personal cell phone records?