October 11, 2010
Slowly, North Carolina has been reacquiring a handful of the huge contingent of players who were relegated to the scout team during preseason practices for a wide range of infractions. As of Monday morning, though, there are three players who definitely won't be back, this season or ever: Defensive tackle Marvin Austin, wide receiver Greg Little and defensive end Robert Quinn, all major prospects in next April's draft.
Austin has been officially booted from the team for "violations of NCAA agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethical conduct rules." His fate had been expected ever since his name surfaced at the forefront of an NCAA probe into "hectic" agent activity around the program. It was an investigation Austin personally initiated via his indiscreet Twitter account. When he was suspended ahead of the season opener, it was pretty clear he wasn't going to be seen again in a Tar Heel uniform; as the evidence has mounted against him, his formal exile was inevitable.
Little and Quinn's cases haven't been as prominent, but both were denied reinstatement by the NCAA for accepting thousands of dollars' worth of assorted prizes. From the TarHeelBlue.cstv.com (emphasis added):
University of North Carolina football student-athletes Greg Little and Robert Quinn are permanently ineligible, according to a decision today by the NCAA student-athlete reinstatement staff. The university declared both student-athletes ineligible for violations of NCAA agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethical conduct rules. According to the facts submitted by the university, the total value of the benefits is approximately $4,952 for Little and $5,642 for Quinn.
Little accepted diamond earrings, as well as travel accommodations for the Bahamas, Washington D.C. and two trips to Miami, among other benefits. Quinn accepted two black diamond watches, a pair of matching earrings and travel accommodations for a trip to Miami, among other benefits.
The university admits both Quinn and Little were "not truthful during three separate interviews with university and NCAA enforcement staff ... despite multiple opportunities to correct their assertions," and only owned up to the verboten loot "when presented with evidence that was contrary to their assertions." Technically, the university can appeal the rulings to an independent panel to get the pair back, but it's not clear that it will, or that it would get an answer in time to get them on the field either way. Unlike Austin, both remain connected to the team and on scholarship to attend school, which should be a clue of just how staggering the case against Austin really is.
So it's off to the NFL with all three. Before they were sidelined by Austin's generous approach to social media, Austin and Quinn were both being sized up as high first-round picks in next year's draft, and Little was regarded as possibly the best of a relatively thin crop of senior receivers. He may drop into the middle rounds, but like current Dallas Cowboy Dez Bryant after missing almost all of his final year at Oklahoma State on an NCAA suspension, Austin and Quinn may be too talented to fall out of the top 20 or 30 picks. (Which is clearly where their focus has been since the end of last season, anyway.)
Meanwhile, North Carolina is left to pick up the pieces, go to extreme lengths to demonstrate its cooperation with the NCAA and cower in fear of the hammer that's likely coming when three separate strands of malfeasance – multiple athletes accepting improper benefits, widespread academic fraud and an assistant coach allegeldy maintaining a wildly improper financial relationship with an agent – are finally unraveled. In the long run, bidding a premature farewell to a handful of good players could be the least of the Heels' problems.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.