June 21, 2011
In the Year of the Snake in college sports, other other high profile scandals have generated more sound and fury, and some cases of a newer vintage might turn out to be more furious still. But for sheer scale, the saga conceived in an early morning tweet by ex-North Carolina star Marvin Austin last summer remains unmatched. Within weeks, Carolina had put Austin and 13 other players on ice for allegedly accepting illegal benefits from agents, seven of whom — including three soon-to-be first and second-round draft picks — would miss the entire season. It forced out an assistant coach with suspicious ties to an NFL agent himself. It launched an internal investigation into academic fraud involving a former student employee who was once hired by the head coach as a private tutor.
Current NFL players admitted to footing the bill for cross-country trips, weekend apartment stays and balla pool parties. At least one player was blinged out by a South Beach jeweler. One of the few draft-worthy starters who managed to avoid the 2010 purge found himself in the crosshairs when he was spotted at a post-draft party with former teammates this spring. And did we mention the assistant coach who was allegedly recruiting clients for an NFL agent?
Most of those threads only saw the light of day as a result of media digging; from there, it was up to the NCAA — with some help from a contrite UNC, looking to mitigate potential damage with cooperation — to tie them all together into a coherent narrative of outlaw and disorder. The Association submitted its best shot today, in the form of an official notice of allegations to the university in a 42-page memorandum. Among the most interesting charges:
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• Improper benefits (Agent Division). During 2009 and 2010, seven football players are accused of accepting more than $27,000 in improper benefits from three agents, five former Tar Heel players, a jeweler, "various financial advisers" and a guy named Willie [last name unknown]. Specifically, the cash and prizes break down like so:
• $7,216.20 from Todd Stewart, "financial advisor" with Pro Sports Financial.
• $5,082.37 from Gary Wichard, now-deceased NFL agent.
• $5,000 from A.J. Mosciato, South Beach jeweler.
• $3,189.20 from Hakeem Nicks, former UNC wide receiver and current New York Giant.
• $2,000 from Kentwan Balmer, former UNC defensive lineman and current Seattle Seahawk.
• $1,826.29 from Omar Brown, former UNC defensive back.
• $816 from Chris Hawkins, former UNC defensive back and alleged "runner" for various agents, also notable for purchasing the Independence Bowl jersey that helped land Georgia receiver A.J. Green on a four-game suspension last summer.
• $398 from Michael Katz, agent with Rosenhaus Sports.
• $323.92 from Willie.
• $200 from Mahlon Carey, former UNC defensive back.
• $120 from Various financial advisors.
• Employing an assistant coach who partnered with an agent. Ex-defensive line coach John Blake's relationship with Wichard has been well-chronicled by Yahoo! Sports on multiple occasions, leading to Blake's resignation last September. From the formal allegation:
It is alleged that from 2007 to 2010, then assistant football coach John Blake partnered with Gary Wichard, National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) certified agent, and Pro Tect Management to represent individuals in the marketing of their athletic abilities in violation of NCAA legislation. Specifically, Blake was employed and compensated by Pro Tect Management to influence football student-athletes to hire Wichard to represent them in marketing their athletic abilities and reputations.
The partnership is backed up by a second allegation that Blake failed to report $31,000 in outside income from Wichard's agency, Pro Tect Management, which Blake allegedly received in seven separate wire transfers from May 2007 to October 15. Blake also reportedly withheld information regarding a $45,000 he allegedly received from Wichard's agency on Dec. 27, 2007, and provided investigators with "false and misleading information" during interviews last year.
Please stop for a moment to allow the fact to sink in that the NCAA believes a major program was employing an assistant coach who was acting as a runner for an agent. The NFLPA seems to have been suitably convinced of the arrangement between Blake and Wichard, as well, having slapped the latter with a nine-month suspension last December prior to Wichard's death from cancer.
• Academic Fraud. An academic support center tutor and at least two unnamed football players "engaged in academic fraud" when the tutor wrote portions of papers and works-cited pages, conducted research and sent players significantly revised drafts of papers on multiple occasions in 2008 and 2009.
• Improper benefits (Academic Division). A former university tutor, Jennifer Wiley, is accused of supplying improper benefits to players in 2009 and 2010 by a) Providing 142 hours of free tutoring (valued at $1,562) to nine student-athletes throughout the 2009-10 term, when she was no longer employed by university, and b) Paying $150 for an airline ticket in May 2010 and a whopping $1,789 in parking fines in August 2010 for a then-football player. (At least three UNC players — Marvin Austin, draft-bound receiver Greg Little and running back Ryan Houston — may have owed that amount in fines at a given time, according to documents released last week that the university had fought to keep under wraps.)
Wiley is also accused of intentionally eluding the university's efforts to contact her for months after her name was drawn into the fray last fall, before finally responding (via attorney) in January that she wouldn't be responding to any further interview requests from the university or NCAA.
• Obstructing an investigation. An unnamed player is accused of "providing false and misleading information" about who paid for airfare and lodging on multiple trips he took in 2009 and 2010. This section is heavily redacted to omit all names and locations, but given the previous reporting in this case and the dates provided in the allegation, the player is almost certainly Marvin Austin, and the trips in question almost certainly include his well-chronicled visits to California in 2009 and South Beach in 2010.
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Thus concludes what appears to be the perfect storm of NCAA death: Players got paid, agents were everywhere, players committed academic fraud, coaches, players and tutors alike misled or stonewalled investigators — and there was direct institutional knowledge via Blake, who (according to the NCAA) not only knew but was actively participating in flouting the rules in a way that the last guy the NCAA accused of being a rogue assistant coach, USC scapegoat Todd McNair, never dreamed.
If you've been following this case from the beginning, none of those charges are new. But it is eye-opening to see all of them exhaustively detailed in one place for the first time, and there is no escaping the conclusion that the Tar Heels are going to feel the maximum, USC-level pain in response — up to and including a postseason ban and heavy scholarship losses. Institutionally, North Carolina worked hard to distance itself from the worst offenders ingratiate itself as a collaborator in justice when it became aware of the violations, but if the NCAA can't throw the book at a school that employed an assistant coach it accuses of acting as a runner for an NFL agent, it might as well ditch the rulebook and badges and rename itself the "Basketball Tournament Deposit Association."
Now, the bureaucracy lurches into a state resembling action. Carolina will have 90 days to submit an official response to the allegations, at which point a date will be set for an appearance in front of the NCAA's all-powerful Committee on Infractions (probably in October). A few weeks after that (probably sometime in the new year), the COI will send its verdict down the mountain on a set of stone tablets, and the university will initiate an appeals process that extends the process another six months or so. By the NCAA's standards, if the Tar Heels know their fate by the start of the 2012 season, it will qualify as a properly speedy trial.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.