UNC to face hearing today
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó When North Carolina officials appear before an NCAA infractions committee Friday, the school will move closer to resolving the uncertainty hovering over its football program for more than a year.
The school has already imposed penalties following the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct, which ultimately led to the firing of head coach Butch Davis as well as the looming early exit of Dick Baddour as athletic director. The hearing in Indianapolis will determine whether UNCís self-imposed penalties ó including vacated wins and scholarship reductions ó will be enough for a sports program that had only one major violation in January 1961 in its history until now.
ěWe feel that what weíve imposed is responsible,î Baddour said. ěI feel what we have in place in a corrective way is absolutely in that same category. And yet, weíve never been there. We have the unknown.
ěWe donít know what they will focus on or what they will ask us about. Yeah, Iím nervous about it. Iíd be dishonest to say otherwise.î
The scandal that has hovered over the school for 15 months included a former assistant coach receiving personal loans from an NFL agent, players receiving jewelry and other gifts from people outside the program, and a tutor providing improper help to players on term papers. In all, 14 players missed at least one game and seven were forced to entire season ó with four of those declared permanently ineligible or dismissed from the team.
The school announced last month that it would vacate all 16 wins from 2008 and 2009, reduce nine scholarships over three years, put its football program on probation for two years, and pay a $50,000 fine.
Baddour will represent the school along with chancellor Holden Thorp, associate athletic director for compliance Amy Herman, faculty athletic representative Lissa Broome and university counsel Leslie Strohm.
Former associate head coach John Blake, whose relationship with late NFL agent Gary Wichard became a key part of the probe, will attend with his attorneys. Davis, who wasnít named in any violation, isnít expected to attend. Neither is former tutor Jennifer Wiley, who was accused of providing improper academic and financial assistance to players.
The NCAA sent a notice of allegations to the school in June outlining nine violations, including unethical conduct by Blake as well as failure to adequately monitor the conduct of former and current players ó some of whom received extra benefits during out-of-town personal trips that coaches and compliance staffers werenít aware of.
Blakeís attorneys have denied allegations that Blake worked to steer players to Wichard, a longtime friend who also transferred more than $31,000 to Blake from 2007-09 in transactions they have described as loans during tough financial times. The NCAA has also accused Blake of lying to investigators when he denied working for Wichard after being fired as Oklahomaís head coach in 1998.
ěWe are going with Coach Blake and looking forward to the hearings, and we feel good about Coach Blake and our chances before the NCAA,î said Wade Smith, one of Blakeís attorneys. He declined to talk specifically about what they would say to the NCAA committee.
Wiley refused to be interviewed by investigators and has since graduated. Her attorney, Joseph B. Cheshire, declined to comment on the case this week.
Interim coach Everett Withers wonít attend after the school and NCAA determined he didnít need to be there.
His players didnít sound focused on the hearing heading into Saturdayís game against Wake Forest.
ěItís out of my control,î quarterback Bryn Renner said. ěI think the whole team thinks that.î
The hearing will represent Baddourís last major task after 14 years as athletic director. He was in the last year of his contract when Thorp fired Davis a week before training camp, and decided to step down because his status could hinder hiring a new coach as opposed to letting a new AD make the hire.
The school has hired Tulsaís Bubba Cunningham as Baddourís successor. Cunningham wonít attend the hearing and will start work Nov. 14.
The committee is expected to make a ruling within eight to 12 weeks.
ěDo I feel good about our prep? Do I feel good about our report? Absolutely I do,î Baddour said. ěI feel like weíve been preparing for this for a long time. … In some ways, I look forward to the opportunity to present our case and to move on. This is an opportunity now to really move on and get this part of it behind us.î
The Associated Press