The North Carolina football program is currently under investigation by the NCAA, suspected of possible rules violations. According to team sources, up to seven players have already spoken with NCAA investigators, and more interviews are expected to take place in the coming days.
It appears that the inquest may have been spurred by senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who posted a comment on the social media site Twitter.com. The tweet, which has since been removed, gave brief details about a trip Austin took to Miami, and included information about Austin driving a car owned by former Tarheel and current San Francisco 49er Kentwan Balmer.
Austin, a team leader and All-American candidate, elected to forego the NFL draft and return to Chapel Hill for his senior year. He had the talent to turn pro, and his decision to come back to school was a coup for the program and for coach Butch Davis. But before all is said and done, all concerned might be wishing that Austin had skipped his final season.
Details of the investigation have not yet been released, and at this point the school is anxiously awaiting word from the NCAA. The college football world is still reeling from sanctions levied against the Pac-10′s USC for violations that involved former Heisman winner Reggie Bush. The Trojans are banned from post-season play for the next 2 seasons, had to forfeit numerous scholarships, and had to vacate wins from the years in question. In all, the punishment was extremely damaging to a premiere program.
The highly publicized investigation made it very clear to other schools that the NCAA will be relentlessly thorough in rooting out rules violations, and that tenacity has the Tarheels circling the wagons. Austin deactivated his Twitter account and canceled his personal cell phone service following the discovery of the rogue tweet. But those post hoc actions may not be enough.
ESPN’s Joe Schad characterized the NCAA’s probe as “a major investigation” and suggested that UNC may be under the same level of scrutiny that besieged the Trojans.
At issue are concerns over improper benefits that may have been received by some of the team’s star players. In addition to Austin, wideout Greg Little has been questioned and seems to be a person of interest in the case.
In fact, the NCAA has questioned a number of players about travel, including the trip to Miami referenced in Austin’s post. It has reportedly asked about Balmer’s vehicle, other vehicles, jewelry, rent, and other expenses. Clearly, the NCAA wants to know where players are getting the money required to pay for a variety of goods and services.
Local media in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area tried to reach Tarheels coach Butch Davis, but Davis was unavailable for comment. UNC athletic director Dick Baddour acknowledged the investigation but was unwilling to make any assessments at this stage.
“I think it’s very important that we not jump to any conclusions at this point,” he said. “If there are issues, we’ll work hard to fix them and move forward.”
UNC players have been urged to keep quiet during the proceedings, but some clearly have their own thoughts about the investigation. Linebacker Zachary Brown said that he hoped there isn’t any truth to the possiblity of rules violations, calling the team “a family”. He suggested that the NCAA’s interest stems from the fact that several high profile players, including Austin, elected to return to the team instead of pursuing NFL riches.
“I think it’s because all the hype we have about our defense so I think the NCAA think we’re all doing something or something cause (sic) everybody returned. All we are trying to do is win the national championship this year,” Brown said to ABC affiliate WTVD.
Wherever the truth lies, the inquiries are just beginning.
Said Schad, “if you are a North Carolina football fan, you have to be concerned.”