Sunday, October 30, 2016

Tarnished Heels -- Chapter Six

Chapter Six
Football penalties

            The final few months of 2011 were relatively quiet in terms of new information on the scandal.  Julius Nyang’oro had resigned his chairman post in the AFAM department and would eventually retire from the university.  The school had made its appearance before the NCAA regarding the infractions charged in the Notice of Allegations – a meeting attended not only by Chancellor Holden Thorp and Director of Athletics Dick Baddour, but also by John Swofford – who was not only the commissioner of the ACC, but conveniently also a former UNC athletics director, athlete, and a graduate of the school.  Happening behind the scenes, though, was the on-campus look into possible irregularities within the Department of African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM).  Those findings would be revealed at a later date.  The next major news, however, would be the formal sanctions handed down by the NCAA against the school’s football program.
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            An article dated March 12, 2012, from the Raleigh News and Observer hit the highlights of the NCAA’s sanctions.  Many of them had previously been covered in the original Notice of Allegations, with the difference now being that penalties were attached.  The wording of some of the infractions, though, would be especially important regarding future activities by the university and some of its players.  Essentially, the school would later commit similar infractions – but would not be held to the same standards and penalties by the NCAA.  The main difference would seemingly be the sports that were affected.  As has been noted before, the school’s level of defense of its football issues versus basketball issues would eventually be great indeed.
            The football program was cited for allowing some of its players to receive impermissible benefits in the forms of money, travel, and other expenses – often provided by tutor  Jennifer Wiley, who at one time had worked personally for head coach Butch Davis’s family.  It would later be shown through a series of Secretary of State indictments that not only did agents also supply players with money, but that the dollar amounts the NCAA stated in its 2012 sanctions were substantially below the actual transaction levels.
            Another major violation – and one that would appear to drive all of the university’s stonewalling attempts in the future regarding uncovering the truth of its academic improprieties – dealt with the impermissible participation of athletes.  The formal sanctions stated that during the 2008-09 academic year and the summer of 2009, three student athletes engaged in academic fraud.  As a result, one of those athletes competed while ineligible during the 2008 football season, another competed while ineligible during the 2009 and 2010 football seasons, and the third competed while ineligible during the 2008 and 2009 football seasons.  The culminating result was that the football program was forced to vacate 16 victories during that timeframe – as games where ineligible players participated were retroactively forfeited.  This is a well-known mantra of both the NCAA and college sports in general.  And it is also presumably what would eventually lead the school to fight tooth and nail over improprieties involving its basketball program.  Much more on that matter will be discussed in the upcoming chapters, but the implication is clear: If a basketball player were ever deemed to have cheated academically, then the team would have to forfeit any games/seasons in which that player participated – even one involving the winning of a National Championship.
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            Back to the March 2012 football sanctions:  The program lost a handful of scholarships spread out over the forthcoming three seasons, and was also banned from postseason competition in 2012, which included any potential conference championship game or bowl game.  In a decision by the school considered hypocritical by many, however, it chose to award its players with “Division Champion” rings after the 2012 season, despite not being eligible for the championship game due to its past violations.  This decision was apparently justified by the university because the team finished in a three-way tie for first in the Coastal Division.  The school also proclaimed itself “Coast Division Champions” in a variety of advertising mediums, including a prominent billboard in Charlotte.  All of this in spite of the fact that Georgia Tech officially won the division and played in the ACC championship game.
            Another penalty from the NCAA dealt with compliance.  The notes said that “the school must also educate athletes, coaches and relevant school personnel on NCAA rules and regulations.”  This edict would fall on at least a few deaf ears in the future, however, as the summer of 2013 would find even more UNC athletes receiving benefits that were clearly impermissible based on multiple NCAA regulations.  One final notation dealt with how the school would be monitored and treated moving forward in terms of any potential new violations that might occur.  The sanctions stated that the institution is on probation for three years. This would seem to infer that if other infractions were to occur during the three years to follow – in any sport – that stricter penalties would be levied.  Whether that ultimately ends up being the case (stricter penalties being levied) remains to be seen, as other infractions have undoubtedly been committed by the school and its players in the aftermath of those announced March 2012 sanctions.
            Following the announcement of the official violations and penalties, a number of individuals associated with UNC (both past and present) commented on the matter.  Regarding a potential appeal, Chancellor Holden Thorp said, “We decided it wouldn’t make sense to appeal, given how long the appeal would take, given the (lack of) success other schools have had with appeals.”  Former head coach Butch Davis maintained his innocence in the matter by saying through a released statement, “As was stated by the Chancellor this summer, and has been noted in this report, I was not named in any of these allegations.”  Former UNC Athletics Director Dick Baddour took a more grandiose approach with his comments, eliciting the very term that has been brought into question through the university’s actions and events over the past two decades: “Well there’s still a Carolina Way,” Baddour said.  “The way we did this investigation, it was my strong belief that it was the Carolina Way.  We set out four guiding principles when we started.  Number four was that we would be better as a result of this.” 
            In a News and Observer editorial released on that same date of March 12, 2012, staff writer Caulton Tudor commented that the school was given a tough punishment, but that it could have been worse.  He noted that more scholarships could have potentially been lost, and that ultimately only a one-year bowl ban wasn’t too bad.  An important observation he also made was that, “Sixteen wins have been vacated, but that sort of reprimand doesn’t carry much weight.”  That is likely true, given that the football team had never competed for a national championship during the affected timeframe.  But once again, the issue of vacated victories would eventually become the centerpiece of the university’s fierce struggle to keep public information hidden from the media.  Because if the school was ever forced to vacate victories in basketball via the spreading academic scandal, then past national championships definitely would be in jeopardy.  Tudor ended his piece by stating, “Perhaps the most important retribution of all is the damage to UNC’s image and reputation.”
            An editorial by News and Observer staff columnist Tom Sorensen appeared the following day, and like Tudor’s closing remark it also made comments regarding the university’s reputation.  The article began by taking the stance that UNC’s football program – and head coach Davis – deserved the sanctions it received.  Sorenson insinuated that there was little discipline within Davis’s former program, as he reiterated the multiple offenses that were by then well known: ineligible players competing, the acceptance of illegal benefits, a tutor enabling players to engage in academic fraud, and more.  As has been the case throughout the school’s three-plus year ordeal, however, items were pointed out by an observer in an article that would later be contradictory to how things ultimately have unfolded.  Sorensen said the school “got one thing right.  The Tar Heels acknowledged their misdeeds.”  He went on to ask, “How many times has an athlete, celebrity, politician or official been caught cheating and compounded his or her mistake by lying about it?”  The ultimate irony would be that the ongoing investigation into the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies would uncover misdeeds, and it would uncover cheating – yet when faced with a different set of potential prospects and penalties, the school would do exactly as Sorensen described: compound the mistake through various forms of obfuscation.
            Sorensen took a final jab at the university’s historical sense of entitlement by saying, “The NCAA did omit one penalty: The Tar Heels forfeit the right to condescend.  While (other schools) were caught cheating, the Tar Heels avoided serious scandal.  As a result, their fans were free to take shots at violators.  And they did.  The lesser among those fans will continue to.  But they have no credibility.”
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The essential (and unanswered) questions:
-- Why would the school choose to publicly flaunt a division championship, and also purchase championship rings for the players on its football team, all while being banned from post-season play – which included the ACC Championship Game?
-- Even after being informed to do so by the NCAA, why would the school not take the (apparently adequate) steps to “educate its athletes, coaches, and relevant school personnel on NCAA rules and regulations?”

-- Considering that the “institution” was placed on three-year’s probation, would the future violations that would be uncovered in 2012 and 2013 lead to stricter NCAA penalties on the school – due to UNC still being within its probationary period?