UNC Formally Cuts Ties With Former Athletes

CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina has sent letters of “permanent disassociation” to former Tar Heels football players Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn for NCAA violations that led to criminal charges against five people for violating the state’s sports agent law.

The letters dated Nov. 15 prohibit the players from contacting current UNC athletes, bar them from the Kenan Football Center or other campus athletic facilities, and prohibit them from providing recruiting or financial assistance for athletics.

The players missed the 2010 season for accepting improper benefits, including cash and travel accommodations. That led to NCAA sanctions against the program and recent charges against five people for violating the state’s Uniform Athlete Agents Act.

The school released the letters Tuesday in response to public-records requests from media outlets.


Preparing For The Triple Option

From 1992 to 1994, I was a defensive graduate assistant coach at Vanderbilt University.  Our Defensive Coordinator was a wonderful coach named Carl “Bull” Reese.  He taught me a lot about football and was a pleasure to work with.  His favorite saying for our defense was “The ball is the issue.”  He believed, as I did, that the most important ingredient to playing quality defense was pursuit to the ball and gang tackling when you got there.  Imagine how I felt then in 2008 when Coach Davis decided our defense would practice the entire week without a football as we prepared for Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson’s triple option offense. 
Playing defense against the triple option is a demanding form of assignment football.  On the triple option, the offense has the possibility of three different people carrying the ball every play depending on how the defense reacts.  First, the quarterback could hand it to the fullback if the defense doesn’t account for him.  He is reading a defender called his “give key.”  If that defender doesn’t tackle the fullback, the quarterback will “give” it to him.  This is the first option. 
The second option is for him to “pull it” from the fullback’s belly if tackled by the “give key” and run it himself.  However, after deciding to “pull it” the quarterback must read his “pitch key.”  The quarterback approaches this particular defender and forces him to make a decision.  If the defender takes the quarterback, then the ball will be pitched to a halfback.  If the defender doesn’t take the quarterback, he will keep it and run. 
Therefore, on every play the defense must account for 1) the fullback diving up the middle, 2) the quarterback running off tackle, or 3) the halfback receiving the pitch on the perimeter.  Defenders can’t diagnose the play and simply run to the ball because the play unfolds as the defenders react.  On every play some defenders are assigned to tackle the fullback, some to tackle the quarterback, and some to tackle the halfback.  If a defender is not strictly focused on his assignment then this offense can make very talented defenses look foolish.
The triple option compromises a defense’s ability to pursue and gang tackle.  On every play two thirds of the defense will not be where the ball is.  Therefore there are many unassisted tackles when playing Georgia Tech and one-on-one tackles are a lot easier to break than gang tackles.  For a defense as fast and talented as the Tar Heels were in 2008, with the likes of Bruce Carter, Robert Quinn, Quan Sturdivant, and many other NFL caliber players, Coach Davis removed the urge to fly to the ball by removing it in practice.  By removing the football, Coach Davis smartly forced our players to focus strictly on their assignments. Those assignments were to tackle the fullback, quarterback, or halfback.  For one week out of the year the ball wasn’t the issue. 
The number of possessions when playing a team like Georgia Tech is interesting to study.  Two weeks ago in the game against State, UNC had 19 possessions.  In five ACC games this season the Tar Heels average 14 possessions a game.  More possessions often equals more plays and spread offenses thrive on running lots of plays.   
Conversely, Maryland had 11 possessions last week in their game against Georgia Tech.  In the six ACC games that Tech has played, their opponents average only 11.8 possessions per game.  This is because Georgia Tech’s offense tends to milk the clock by remaining on the field for time consuming drives.
One way Tech keeps drives alive is by going for it on fourth down.  Twenty times the Yellow Jackets have attempted to covert a fourth down, averaging more than one per half.    Interestingly, the other three programs in the country that run the triple option, Army, Navy, and Air Force, have an average of 27.3 fourth down attempts for the season.  This stat indicates that anytime a triple option offense crosses the 50-yard line, they are likely to be in four down territory. 
It can be frustrating to a play caller when your offense sits on the sideline for eight minute drives.  In Georgia Tech’s recent win over Boston College, the Tech offense held the ball for a remarkable 43:35 of the game. For a team like UNC, which wants to build an identity on the number of plays it runs in a game, having 2 or 3 fewer possessions is a real concern.
When I was the Offensive Coordinator for the Chicago Bears, I worked with a man named Rex Norris.  Rex was our Defensive Line Coach and had served as the Defensive Coordinator at Oklahoma under Barry Switzer.  Those Oklahoma defenses regularly ranked near the top of every statistical category. One of the reasons for those high rankings, Rex told me, was because their defense only had to play 15 to 20 minutes of the game.  The Sooner offense, which was the triple option from the wishbone formation, would regularly be on the field for over forty minutes per game. 
Another thing that I feel is important when playing Georgia Tech is to play with a lead.  Georgia Tech is not the type of team that is built to play catch-up football.  It was the only game of the year that Coach Davis would take the ball to begin the game as opposed to deferring until the second half.  And if we could get up two scores in the second half and force the Yellow Jackets to pass, then we felt strongly that the game could be ours. 
In 2008, UNC won the toss and Cam Sexton took us down the field on the opening drive for a 7-0 lead.  In the 4th quarter we were able to increase our lead to 21-0 forcing Tech to throw the ball.  We won the game 28-7 in what I think is a solid template for beating Tech.  Our disciplined defensive unit forced three turnovers and held twice on fourth down attempts.  Offensively, while we did not win the time of possession we did play with a lead the entire game.  We had zero turnovers and attempted to covert four fourth down conversions of our own.  Obviously, the best way to defend the triple option is for it to remain sidelined.  One of our fourth down attempts was a 31 yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks sealing the victory in the 4th quarter. 
Each year as I prepared to play Georgia Tech I would think about Dean Smith’s brand of “Four Corners” basketball.  I’ll bet fast breaking basketball teams felt similar frustrations when preparing to play Carolina’s brand of ball control, milk the clock style of play.  I think Paul Johnson realizes, like Dean Smith, that it’s tough to score when you don’t have the ball.  


Same Old, Same Old

The 208-page report released by UNC this week pertaining to the football scandal revealed few new facts and fewer names – thanks to heavy redaction in almost every document. What it did underscore was the gross lack of oversight in the entire mess.

From the first $67,000 paid to a Kansas law firm that was hired and still could not prevent loose lips that sunk some scholarships, to the naïve “c’mon in” attitude of the athletic department toward the NCAA, it has mushroomed into an academic scandal whose stench will last long after the three-year probationary period ends. And more legal bills will be coming for sure.

The media is – and continues to be – dogged in seeking the release of every public document pertaining to the scandal. That UNC won’t give up any of the names of players, tutors and others involved, citing FERPA privacy laws, is like dangling raw meat in front of a Tiger. That’s how hungry the so-called traditional media is to prove that it still has a place in the Internet-social media society of today.

Most of the impermissible benefits remain pretty petty. One case involves a couple of players who slept on a former teammate’s couch after a heavy night of partying instead of making it back to the hotel room they had paid for with their own money. Hotel, no violation; buddy’s couch, impermissible bennie. Silly rule.

The worst of it involves Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, and Greg Little, three players who did take what they weren’t supposed to in travel and jewelry. Each committed specific crimes in the eyes of the NCAA as the scandal blew up.

Austin, of course, awoke the college watchdogs by tweeting from that South Beach bistro. Quinn gave up his cell phone that had calls and texts linking him to a Miami jeweler. And Little, who has never been able to keep his trap shut, first mentioned “Miss Wiley” to NCAA investigators, which allowed them to look at Jennifer Wiley’s university email account that contained hundreds to and from football players. That turned an NCAA investigation into an academic fraud case.

Granted, Carolina has had very little experience dealing with the NCAA on this side of the line; it has been 50 years since our last probation. But, until Bubba Cunningham arrived, the athletic department was pathetically myopic in not seeking advice from outside sources and convincing each other the Carolina Way will prevail and the worst is over. The Carolina Way is now a punch line.

One obvious transparency was bringing in the Kansas law firm that still could not prepare the players well enough for their inquisitions. Another is the university telling players NOT to get their own individual attorneys because it will “make you look guilty.” That lit a fire under Devon Ramsay’s mother, who lawyered up on her own and got her son off.

And now it’s clear that Carolina has slipped across the line that separates every major college athletic department from those with a rap sheet. Since the leather helmet days, football players have been taking $5-50 handshakes, free meals here and there, and steered toward courses taught by the “Easy B Nyang’oros.”

The depth of this probe has made it look like a rogue department and a Chair and associate who turned lecture classes into independent study courses (without teachers) in which tutors helped players write papers that would determine their grades. That part of the scandal is still under deep scrutiny and looks like it will have the most damning effect on the rep of a great university.

When 18 football players wind up in a course that was put onto the schedule at virtually the last minute, there had to be a conduit between athletics and academics to help those players needing to stay eligible. There is simply no other explanation, whether it was John Blake, the academic support staff or Butch Davis himself coming up with the solution. Eventually, someone else may pay for that.

Of course, Davis continues to claim he did nothing wrong and knew of nothing wrong.  Truth is, he did know a lot about what was going on at the academic support center, did not like some of it and butted heads trying to change it.

Whatever the well-known football fibber knew or didn’t know, the buck had to stop with the man making $3 million as CEO of the program. All this deny, deny, deny, and I didn’t know on You Tube is enough to make any caring Tar Heel sick to his stomach. Davis did lots of good with UNC football but apparently nothing bad.

And yet, we’re still paying his full severance, even though it’s clear he and his agent are pulling a fast one with the wording of Davis’ new job description in Tampa Bay. PLUS, we invited his kid to join the football team as a walk-on, keeping his dad as part of the UNC Football Family. Not exactly what I’d call a fresh start and moving on.

As my friend BobLee says, “There has to be a better answer than our mess isn’t as bad as Penn State’s.”

If you want to read the acerbic version of the story from BobLee himself, click here. Laughing and crying out loud are both permitted.


NCAA Athletes Deserve A Share of the Profits

March Madness brings mad money: money for mammoth coaching salaries, huge revenues for television companies, mega-dough to support the lavish lifestyles of the NCAA bigwigs… College football post-season bowl games reportedly earn more money than the NBA or the NFL.

Meanwhile, according to a study by the National College Players Association (NCPA), the average full scholarship at Football Bowl Series universities falls $3,222 short of covering the player’s actual annual expenses. The NCAA’s strict rules forbid athletes from even working part-time jobs to help meet these extra expenses. Many players have families living in poverty, while the profits that could not be generated without them enrich so many others.

Some Ohio State football players were caught trading memorabilia for tattoos that were worth less than a couple of hundred dollars. Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was suspended for a game last year over $140 worth of meals and entertainment. UNC defensive end Robert Quinn received about $5600 in benefits which doesn’t seem so rich when compared to Coach Butch Davis’ annual earnings of $2.25 million.

The NCPA concluded their report by stating the obvious: paying the players what they need to meet all of their basic expenses could “reduce their vulnerability to breaking NCAA rules.”

This type of suggestion creates great gusts of righteous indignation from the NCAA. The brain trust speaks of the sacred nature of amateur athletics. They ignore the current black market that the current system has helped to create.

Any other student is free to make money while they attend school. A trumpet player in the music department can play gigs. A writer can sell their work. Their status is not tainted by participating in the marketplace. How is it that — once someone puts on their school colors and takes the field or court — they sacrifice their right to make money just because some claim that it would sour the entire NCAA system?

I’m not real fond of quoting Dookies, but here’s what former basketball player Jay Bilas had to say about this:  “It’s hard not to laugh, it’s so ridiculous — that the pesky free-market system the rest of us seem to be able to navigate without a problem would sink the whole enterprise.”


Unanswered Questions

The NCAA’s 38-page report on the Carolina football sanctions is detailed in its outline of violations by the school and the individuals involved (although no names are mentioned; just Student Athlete 1, Student Athlete 2, former assistant coach, former tutor, etc.). But it, as the entire investigation has over the last 22 months, leaves many questions unanswered. Here are a few:

1) Why has the implicated former tutor, exposed many months ago as 2009 UNC graduate and current Durham elementary school teacher Jennifer Wiley, refused to be interviewed by UNC and/or the NCAA or make any public comment of explanation or in her own defense?

Wiley is widely held responsible for the damning tag of “academic fraud” in the first seven pages of the NCAA report, and anyone in her place should be seething that she was thrown under the bus for every picayune and confusing allegation of student-athlete academic misconduct.

Wiley received a letter of disassociation from the university, yet she continues to be represented by noted Raleigh attorney and UNC graduate Joe Cheshire, who defended one of the wealthiest former Duke lacrosse players falsely charged with rape in 2006.

Cheshire did not return phone calls or emails this week after making a statement to WRAL’s website in which he called the NCAA report “not completely accurate” and categorized Wiley as having a “big heart that caused her so much pain” who now wants to get on with her life. So disgraced by her alma mater, why is Wiley refusing to tell her side of the story? Is there legal action coming from Wiley and her family?

Cheshire also represented fired football coach Butch Davis, who is further tied to Wiley because he and his wife hired her as a private tutor for their teenage son, Drew. Wiley’s only public statements have been of regret over her role in the scandal and support of Davis.

Attempts to reach Wiley at her home, school and via email have been unsuccessful. Her parents must be both heartbroken and furious, yet her father Stewart Wiley of Matthews, N.C., also refused to talk when contacted. He maintained his daughter has nothing more to say.  

Cheshire told the News & Observer Friday that the $1,789 she gave a former UNC player (Greg Little) to pay off his unpaid parking tickets was a loan that was paid back right away, and that every other favor she did for football players was out of friendship to help them fulfill their dream of playing in the NFL someday. 

2) Will John Blake continue to be silent after denying all charges against him (allegations that were not refuted by UNC in their official response to the NCAA) and receiving a three-year “show cause” penalty that will keep him from coaching college football for at least that long?

Blake has told several acquaintances that he was fired as a scapegoat in September of 2010 and a number of former UNC players, coaches and administrators knew of his relationship with deceased agent Gary Wichard, including Davis. Blake appeared before the NCAA Committee on Infractions at the same hearing where UNC responded to the nine allegations last October.

Blake has also retained counsel who said they are contemplating an appeal. He could also sue both the NCAA and UNC. If he has more damning evidence and UNC truly wants to put the scandal in the background, he could be in a position to get more money from his former employer. Blake was paid a pro-rated 2010 salary of $75,000 when fired.

Former Southern Cal assistant coach Todd McNair filed suit against the NCAA in 2011, claiming libel, slander and misconduct in implicating him in the investigation of USC Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush, which landed the Trojans on probation, including a two-year bowl ban. 

3) During Monday’s teleconference, veteran sportswriter and Orange County Commissioner Barry Jacobs asked how Butch Davis, the man who oversaw the Carolina football program for four and a half years, could escape to Tampa unscathed and, in fact, even wealthier with a $2.7 million contract buyout for being fired without cause?

Adam Gold of 99.9 FM radio pointed out that Davis’ contract states that he could be fired “with cause” if one of his assistant coaches committed an NCAA violation. Davis also used a loophole in his contract to receive his full severance after taking a job as a “special assistant” to new Tampa Bay Bucs coach Greg Schiano. Davis claims he will do no coaching in his new NFL job, but many stories since his hiring by Schiano have referred to Davis as a “defensive coach.”

In response, former Athletic Director Dick Baddour maintained Davis cooperated fully with the NCAA and UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said paying Davis off was “our best option.” Does that mean refusing to pay Davis invites a lawsuit from the deposed coach that would be costly to defend and keep the scandal in the news?

In fact, Davis did not “cooperate fully.” He hid his cell phone use with a personal phone to the total exclusion of the cell phone and land line provided by UNC, then promised his cell phone records to the media, then stonewalled, then when fired went away and never produced anything.

4) What exactly does the vacating of 16 wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons mean, with regard to UNC records, Butch Davis’ coaching record and career statistics of those (ineligible?) players who participated in those games?

Kevin Best, UNC’s Director of Football Communications, says the victories will be erased from those seasons and Carolina’s all-time total, but not converted to losses (such in forfeits). Thus, UNC’s official record for the 2008 and ’09 seasons will be two 0-5s in forthcoming media guides.

Under NCAA guidelines, Davis’ overall record at Carolina will be changed from 28-23 to 12-23, and Davis will not be allowed to claim those vacated victories on personal resumes, interviews and applications or in media guides of teams and schools he works for in the future.

Best said that he is clarifying how the individual statistics of players who were in those vacated wins will be handled in the official UNC records and media guides moving forward. Carolina has 45 days to submit a compliance report on all of these changes to the NCAA.

5) In light of the decision to not let former linebacker Ebele Okakpu, who was dismissed from the football team last season for a series of program violations, participate in UNC’s pro timing day in front of NFL scouts, why were Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn allowed to audition for the NFL after being ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA?

New Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham and new coach Larry Fedora have denied Okakpu’s request to appear at the timing day. Cunningham said they are trying to set a new standard of accountability for the football program, obviously wanting to distance the new coaching staff from anything related to the Davis regime.

Certainly understandable, but it raises the question of why the other three former players were allowed such access. Okakpu’s agent Lance Courtney has said “the entire situation is very strange to me and it appears to be strange to every NFL person I speak with regarding Ebele.”

Was UNC afraid that Austin, Little and Quinn had more information about NCAA violations that they threatened to expose if not permitted at the pro timing day? Austin implied as much after former teammate Michael McAdoo’s lawsuit was dismissed, saying he was ready to “spill the beans.”

6) Are there any other skeletons in the Carolina closet that will come out in the weeks and months to come, regarding Davis, Blake and the last football regime?

At one time, apparently, a half dozen former players were considering legal action against the university for lost playing time during the 2010 season that could have affected their chances to play professional football. Devon Ramsay won such a suit after missing nine games in 2010, had his eligibility restored for 2011 and received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after tearing an ACL in the season opener against James Madison. Ramsay, apparently, had six commas changed or added to a paper by Wiley or another tutor.

McAdoo, a defensive end, sued the NCAA and UNC for losing his eligibility, forced a telephone hearing with the NCAA and when his eligibility was not restored saw his lawsuit dismissed in North Carolina Superior Court. McAdoo, who entered the NFL supplementary draft and subsequently signed with the Baltimore Ravens, is appealing the dismissal because his family says it wants to keep public attention on the procedures and policies of the NCAA.

7) What additional questions do you have? Log in as a Chapelboro insider and post your questions at the bottom of this column.


The Football Poll

Let’s have a poll, less formal and more detailed than you find on Chapelboro.com every day.

You’re a UNC alumnus and/or fan. How do you feel about the Carolina football program being dragged through the NCAA mud for the last year or so?
Does it make you mad that the governing body of college athletics is picking on the Tar Heels when the NCAA should be frying bigger fish like Ohio State and Auburn, like they skewered Southern Cal a few years ago?

Is it embarrassing that your school has spent time on the wrong side of the news since last summer after more than 50 years of mostly being on the right side . . . so much so that a slightly self-serving phrase was created called the Carolina Way?

Does it make you spittin’ angry that the head coach, despite being tall and handsome and smooth as a newly varnished floor and tied to all the right charities, has been asleep at the wheel while driving hard on recruiting trips; and that he continues to get a hall pass from the athletic director, chancellor and Board of Trustees because they believe “he didn’t know” what was going on in his own program?

Or do you basically not give a damn what happens off the field as long as Carolina can continue striving to play “big time” football and build $70 million facilities that, despite the academic smokescreen, is really about giving the head coach what he wants to be successful in recruiting.

And, after deciding where you stand on this poll, would your answers be any different if the Tar Heels had been better than 8-5, 8-5 and 8-5 the past three seasons and were less than 30 years removed from their last ACC football championship?

C’mon, fess up.

This poll comes down to the question of reputation and integrity. Ironically, UNC remains under investigation after opening its doors to the snoop dogs, while schools from the SEC make it harder for the NCAA to come on their campuses than flushing out bin Laden. We said, “Sure talk to our players, check out their emails, we have nothing to hide.” And we obviously did not properly prep those players on what to say, so some of them lied to the NCAA, the ultimate no-no.

Meanwhile, a chancellor who seemed to have the right perspective when all this started has instead fallen into “lockstep” with the athletic department and Trustees in what now looks like a growing game of dodge ball. No more documents, phone records or parking tickets flowing to the media under the Freedom of Information Act until all appeals are exhausted.

And the continued insistence that what Butch Davis didn’t know can’t hurt him.

In a recent mock case the NCAA staged for the media, it was clearly stated that “regardless of knowledge or involvement under NCAA rules, institutions are responsible for actions of staff members, student-athletes and boosters.”

So whether or not Butch Davis knew about the escapades of Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn, Greg Little and, more recently, Quinton Coples and three other players who attended a post-NFL draft party, it does not matter in the eyes of the NCAA. In the eyes of some alumni, it may be worse that Davis claims he didn’t know because that equals lack of control and oversight.

So your answer to the poll question: Is having big-time football at Carolina worth all of this . . . the crawls across the bottom of the ESPN broadcasts, the columns and blogs in the national press that have redefined the Carolina Way?

Certainly, it doesn’t seem so now.

But one last poll question: Even if the Heels were to win the ACC title, reach their first BCS bowl – maybe even make the hallowed BCS Championship game and win the whole enchilada – would this kick to our collective keisters be worth it?

How much does the reputation of dear old NCU mean to you?

Your personal poll:
·         Screw the NCAA?
·         I’m embarrassed?
·         Full disclosure?
·         Can the coach?
·         OK, if we win big?