North Carolina receives sanctions, avoids hammer from the NCAA

It’s been almost two years since the bottom fell out of the North Carolina football program, when allegations of improprieties first hit the airwaves in the fall of 2010. It took nearly 18 months and a whole lot of worrying, but the NCAA did release their findings on Monday afternoon. And frankly, things could’ve been worse a lot worse for the Tar Heels.

In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know:  Like the Ohio State Buckeyes (who ironically now employ last year’s UNC interim head coach Everett Withers), the Tar Heels will be banned from the postseason for one year in 2012, after being slapped with a Failure to Monitor charge by the NCAA. The school will also lose 15 lost scholarships (up from the original nine that UNC sanctioned against itself), and will be on probation for three years instead of two. In addition, former assistant coach John Blake was slapped with a three-year “show cause” penalty, meaning that any program interested in hiring Blake during that time will have to go in front of the NCAA and show cause for the decision. The school will also forfeit all wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

That’s hardly a slap on the wrist, but given what UNC was found guilty of doing, it all could’ve been much worse.

As most of you probably remember, the investigation centered around Blake, a defensive line coach with the Tar Heels, who came under fire when it was revealed that along with being a full-time assistant in Chapel Hill, he was also working as a runner for NFL agent Gary Wichard. Blake acted as the middle-man for Wichard (now deceased), giving the agent access to his top players at North Carolina, who in turn got access to Wichard’s training facilities in California. In the process, guys like Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and others also got a cavalcade of free gifts as well, including lodging, jewelry and other free trips.

After word leaked of Blake’s involvement with Wichard the investigation picked up, and all but ruined the 2010 football season for North Carolina. In total, 14 players missed time in 2010, including seven who missed the entire year. Included in that group were Austin and Quinn, projected All-Americans.

As for the particulars, here are exact findings by the NCAA:

–    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is responsible for multiple violations, including academic fraud, impermissible agent benefits, ineligible participation and a failure to monitor its football program.

–    Over the course of three seasons, six football student-athletes competed while ineligible as a result of these violations, and multiple student-athletes received impermissible benefits totaling more than $31,000.

–    While employed by the university, a former assistant football coach [presumed to be John Blake] was compensated by a sports agent [presumed to be Gary Wichard] for the access he provided to student-athletes and failed to disclose the income to the university. The former assistant coach and a former tutor both committed unethical conduct and failed to cooperate with the investigation.

However, given those quite strong allegations, the NCAA appears to have been somewhat lenient in their ruling Monday. If anything it once again shows that when a program is proactive and works with the NCAA, they are usually spared when punished.

How was the school proactive? Well as mentioned, to their credit, UNC immediately removed any player accused of any wrongdoing in the fall of 2010, including some like Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant who were eventually cleared to play before the first game of the season. All were reinstated only after full investigations, and some weren’t reinstated at all.

Off the field the school remained proactive, firing Blake just weeks after the investigation began, and eventually firing former head coach Butch Davis last summer. Athletic Director Dick Baddour wasn’t far behind, and resigned just weeks later. In addition the school self-imposed sanctions including a reduction in scholarships by nine, the removal of all wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons and a $50,000 fine.

And in the end, it appears to have saved the program. While things will be tough in the short-term, things should be just fine going forward. Larry Fedora was hired as a new head coach in the off-season, and the program returns several key players from last year’s team. And while they’ll be playing for pride only in 2012, by 2013 they could again be a player in the Coastal Division.

All things considered, things could’ve been much worse for the Tar Heels.

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.