The University of North Carolina took another step forward in explaining alleged violations regarding its football program Thursday evening.
UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp, athletic director Dick Baddour, and head coach Butch Davis held a press conference in regards to possible academic infractions as well as illegal contact with agents.
“Academic achievement and fairness are at the heart of the University of North Carolina and the Department of Athletics,” Thorp said. “We are treating this issue with the seriousness that you would expect."
“It’s a privilege to put on the North Carolina uniform and represent the University, and it’s our job to make sure that people who do so have earned that privilege.”
The NCAA initially began to investigate the Carolina football program after a few of its players were suspected of illegal contact with agents.
Defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little allegedly took a trip to Miami this past summer, which involved players from other programs, according to reports.
Depending on what exactly the NCAA uncovers, the players who attended the trip could potentially be ruled ineligible.
The NCAA is also looking into a relationship between agent Gary Wichard and current Carolina assistant coach John Blake.
Cam Thomas, a member of the 2009 UNC football team and now with the San Diego Chargers, recently told reporters that he and Austin took a trip to California in the summer of 2009 to train with former Tar Heel Kentwan Balmer.
Thomas said Balmer paid for the trip, which is a violation of NCAA rules.
Balmer, a 2008 first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, is a Wichard client.
Those stories are old news and not the reason for tonight’s press conference, however.
While investigating the alleged relationship between current players and agents, North Carolina reportedly came across academic infractions involving a former student-tutor and members of the football team.
The University made the NCAA aware of the possible academic infractions, and the NCAA is allowing the University to conduct its own investigation.
“We have to work with the NCAA to determine all the facts before we can provide more information,” Baddour said. “There is nothing more sacred than academic integrity at the University of North Carolina."
“We will find out what happened and deal with it seriously and through whatever measures are deemed appropriate by the NCAA and University.”
According to a statement released by the University, professors Jack Evans, Lissa Broome, and former and current Faculty Athletics Representatives are spearheading the investigation on the academic side.
Others involved in student affairs, the compliance office, and UNC’s legal counsel’s office will also be involved in the investigation.
The academic infractions could be messier than the alleged contact with Wichard and other agents.
According to ESPN’s Joe Schad and Inside Carolina’s Greg Barnes, the student-tutor involved with the reported academic infractions was also a nanny for Coach Davis.
It is believed that the tutor/nanny allegedly wrote papers for players.
CBSSports.com ran a report noting that cornerbacks Charles Brown and Kendrick Burney have already been dismissed from the football team.
CBSSports.com said it could not confirm the dismissals with its sources.
Erin Summers of WRAL in Raleigh reported, “it’s all but four players on the starting defense who are involved in the academic infractions.”
Unconfirmed reports out of Chapel Hill said that the majority of the defensive starters were removed from the first team during Carolina’s closed practice Thursday, and that Chancellor Thorp spoke with the team on the field.
Regardless of who is running the next stage of this investigation, it is apparent that the Carolina team that shows up in Atlanta to take on LSU on September 4 will not be the same team that Carolina fans envisioned it would be.
“As much as we’d like to finalize both the reviews of possible agent violations and academic issues before the first game, there is no definitive timetable,” Baddour said. “It’s likely the review will extend beyond the start of the season.”
Baddour also said at the press conference that Davis will have to “make some assumptions” about who will be available to play against LSU and how to go about preparing for the season opener that is now less than 10 days away.
The pending investigations could cripple the North Carolina football program this season, which was expected to be a strong competitor in the ACC and potential BCS dark horse.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. predicted that Carolina has five potential first-round picks on its defense.
After Thursday’s press conference, it is unclear how many of those players will be suiting up at the outset of the season.
Many unknown facts and details remain, but it appears the allegations will be enough to keep players off the field, which is a death sentence to the 2010 Tar Heels.
Davis will now have to piece together a squad for this year after the University determines who is eligible to play, as well as deal with any impending fallout from recruits.
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