Academic fraud? There’s an app for that. Extra benefits? More different types from more different people than you could possibly fit on one screen. Agents? Oh, so many agents — both real and wannabes. And then there’s John Blake, the assistant coach who was secretly working for a sports agent while employed by the university. He might get his own page in the next NCAA manual.
For all the tawdry scandals that have tarnished college football over the past 12 months — from USC to Tennessee, from Cam Newton to Jim Tressel — one can easily argue that the nine major violations levied against Butch Davis’ program Tuesday contain more filth and more blatant disregard for the rule book than any of them.
And yet, one gets the sense that after nearly a year of buildup, North Carolina’s case may wind up causing less indignation than any of them. Fans don’t generally get worked up over perennial 8-5 programs. It would probably take the death penalty for fans outside Tobacco Road to truly take notice, and at least two notable omissions from Tuesday’s report assure that’s not going to happen.
Unlike disgraced Ohio State coach Tressel, currently unemployed and unhireable for failing to disclose knowledge of violations by his players, Davis’ name does not appear anywhere in the NCAA’s 42-page report. He remains gainfully employed for now. And unlike USC (or Boise State, for that matter), North Carolina escaped the dreaded Lack of Institutional Control charge that usually elicits the Committee on Infractions’ harshest penalties, settling instead for the just-below-that Failure to Monitor.
So to all you coaches out there: If your program is found guilty of every variety of NCAA violation imaginable, just be sure no one e-mails you about it. And the lesson for schools: Check your players’ Twitter accounts. Seriously. That’s one of the three things UNC is cited for failing to monitor.
Otherwise, investigators apparently felt the school did the best possible job it could in monitoring its rogue defensive line coach/agent runner; its tutors who not only wrote papers’ players but helped pay their parking tickets; and 10 of the 11 individuals (most of them agents, financial advisers or former players) who provided more than $27,000 in benefits to stars like Marvin Austin.
Read the report and you’ll find this nearly impossible to fathom.
In defending its much-criticized enforcement system, NCAA officials constantly remind us that “every case is different,” much to the frustration of the common fan whose instinctual reaction to news like this is to immediately compare and contrast. Are North Carolina’s infractions more or less egregious than Ohio State’s? Will the Tar Heels suffer stiffer or less severe sanctions than USC? It’s an impossible thing to quantify, and Tuesday’s surprising lack of lack-of-institutional-control twist makes it tougher to predict the final outcome. We can only guess that the penalties will still be stiff.
Last month, many of us who cover college sports year-round attended the NCAA’s first-ever Enforcement Experience and got to watch part of a mock Committee on Infractions hearing. While the case (involving, coincidentally, academic fraud) was fake, the two former Committee members grilling the participants were real. We got a pretty good window into the types of violations that get their blood boiling. They’d be foaming at the mouth over some of the allegations in UNC’s report.
The Committee generally does not take kindly to academic fraud. In this case, a former tutor in the school’s academic support center, Jennifer Wiley, allegedly tutored players for free after leaving her job, bought one of them an airline ticket and paid $1,789 for their parking tickets. Wiley is also accused of writing papers for two players, rendering them ineligible for the 2008, ’09 or ’10 seasons.
And ask USC how the Committee feels about agents (or wannabe agents like former Tar Heel Chris Hawkins, whom the school is faulted for providing access to its players). As was reported in bits and pieces last summer, the Chapel Hill campus was apparently crawling with cash-wielding runners for agents, while at the same time, players like Austin were getting flown to a training facility in California used by the late agent Gary Wichard’s company Pro Tect Management — the same company that wired $31,000 over two years to defensive line coach Blake.
Remember the infamous Paul Dee line about Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo: “High-profile players demand high-profile enforcement?” What of high-profile assistant coaches?
Blake’s nefarious role in all this (which includes his own unethical conduct charge for withholding information from investigators) is the biggest source of mystery as to how his boss, Davis, managed to avoid the NCAA’s wrath. In a document outlining its Principles of Institutional Control, one of the acts the Committee cites as “likely to demonstrate lack of institutional control” is if “A head coach … fails to monitor the activities of assistant coaches regarding compliance.” But it then follows that up with: ” … the head coach cannot be charged with the secretive activities of an assistant bent on violating NCAA rules.” Apparently the school did a bang-up job portraying Blake as just such a character, absolving Davis and the school for failing to uncover his secret employer.
Because of that, North Carolina may have staved off the most severe imaginable penalties, but you have to imagine they’re still going to be pretty rough. Maybe it’s a one-year postseason ban instead of two. Maybe it’s 10 docked scholarships instead of 20. Either way, three years’ worth of wins are about to be vacated.
The biggest question: Will Davis keep his job? That one will be entirely up to the school.
North Carolina brought in the former Miami savior and Cleveland Browns head coach to elevate the Tar Heels into a national contender. True to form, he (with help from Blake) reeled in and developed a bevy of NFL-caliber players unlike any the program had seen, which then completely backfired. Four years later, he’s got one Music City Bowl win and nine alleged major violations to his name.
And yet, both school officials and fans remain highly supportive of him. If he’s the guy they want to keep leading them in the future, there’s nothing in Tuesday’s document that would prevent them from doing so.
“I feel terrible that these allegations occurred under my watch,” Davis said in a statement Tuesday night. ” … The responsibility for correcting any problems that put us in this position is mine, and I take that responsibility very seriously. … I will continue to focus on improving every aspect of our football program.”
That task could get a whole lot harder once the Committee gets done nuking his program sometime after its October hearing, and perhaps by then the school will be shamed into making a change. As of today, however, the official stance, as articulated by Chancellor Holden Thorp, is: “We made mistakes, and we have to face that.”
Tressel made one huge mistake and it cost him his career. USC had one star player go rogue and it cost the school 30 scholarships. North Carolina is accused of nine major violations involving at least 14 different adults and roughly half its starting lineup, and yet its case may wind up causing the smallest ripple of the three.
Clearly, Davis’ work is not done. His program has yet to achieve the level of notoriety needed to truly anger people with its indiscretions.