To the surprise of absolutely no one who has followed college football over the last month, North Carolina has officially suspended defensive tackle Marvin Austin for Saturday's season opener with LSU. You might be surprised to learn, though, per Carolina coach Butch Davis, that the decision to put one of the most coveted prospects in next year's draft on ice had nothing to do with the NCAA's investigation into the infamous South Beach party trip Austin took with other pro prospects over Memorial Day weekend, and whether agents may have played in a role. Or the NCAA's investigation into whether Austin broke any rules by driving an SUV owned by former teammate Kentwan Balmer, now with the Seattle Seahawks, or by staying in Balmer's apartment. Or the investigation into who paid for Austin to travel and work out at a California gym owned by an agent with a close relationship to Austin's position coach. Or UNC's own investigation into whether Austin broke any rules in the wide-ranging academic fraud scandal the university began investigating last week.
No, according to his coach, Austin will be sitting because he broke some other rule (emphasis added). From CarolinaBlue.com:
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – University of North Carolina announced Wednesday afternoon that head coach Butch Davis has suspended defensive tackle Marvin Austin indefinitely.
"This decision is not a result of the ongoing NCAA review," says Davis. "Marvin has violated team rules and has neglected his responsibilities to the team."
Austin will not play Saturday vs. LSU.
Austin (along with wide receiver Greg Little, the only consistent playmaker on the offense) has been practicing with the second team in anticipation of being declared ineligible for weeks. Though the NCAA hasn't come back with an official ruling, with kickoff a little over 72 hours away, the Heels can't afford to risk playing a guy who could be declared retroactively ineligible at some point in the future. (Alabama, Florida State and USC fans should be able to tell you all about what will happen if they do.) Like his friend Weslye Saunders, who was suspended under similar circumstances at South Carolina, the main "team rule" Austin violated was bringing the NCAA to campus in the first place.
For whatever reason, Austin is the first official suspension in Chapel Hill, though he hardly seems like the last with half the starting lineup still stuck in a "holding mode" after being relegated to the scout team ahead of the announcement of the academic fraud investigation last week. As of Friday, the list of demoted starters included nine first-teamers on defense, six of whom (Austin, defensive end Robery Quinn, linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant, cornerback Kendric Burney and safety Deunta Williams) were voted All-ACC last year and seemed bound for the 2011 draft. Now, it's entirely uncertain when (or if) any of them will be back in a Carolina uniform this year. But if you're so inclined, it's probably a good idea to get in your bets on LSU Saturday while you still can.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.