Year in Review: Investigation still looms over UNC football

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Chancellor Holden Thorp speaks at a press conference last December on possible academic misconduct involving the football team.

Ten months have passed since NCAA investigators first contacted the North Carolina athletic department to say they would be on campus to conduct interviews.

But investigators have yet to send UNC a letter of inquiry or notice of allegations regarding their finds, despite multiple suspensions and ruling three former Tar Heel football players as permanently ineligible from collegiate competition.

During the 10-month span, the team won seven regular season games, won its first bowl game since 2001 and has prepared about a dozen players for this week’s NFL Draft.

“(The NCAA hasn’t) been here in several months, and that’s something that obviously the University and the institution, that’s more in their area of expertise,” coach Butch Davis said before the first spring practice on March 16. “Ours is trying to get this football team prepared to play the 2011 season.”

The investigation still hovers over Chapel Hill like a black cloud, as it was the first time UNC athletics had seen that level of attention from NCAA enforcement agents since the mid-1900s with Frank McGuire’s basketball team.

UNC played without 13 Tar Heels in the Sept. 4 season opener against Louisiana State, and Davis said he burned at least eight redshirts in that game alone.

The patchwork lineup held up through the first part of the season before collapsing against Miami in a 31-10 loss. Davis said after the game that he “probably won’t be able to redshirt any of” his players by the end of the season.

The investigation stripped UNC of top defensive players Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and Michael McAdoo. The latter two were ruled permanently ineligible while Austin was kicked off the team for receiving improper benefits that athletic director Dick Baddour said were between $10,000-$13,000.

But Austin, Quinn and wide receiver Greg Little, who was also ruled ineligible, were among 18 Tar Heels who participated in UNC’s Pro Day on March 31 in front of hundreds of scouts. The three were welcomed back warmly by their teammates and Davis.

“They are Tar Heels,” Davis said. “They’ve been here. They certainly played a huge role in our previous successes, getting us to bowl games in previous years.”

Forgiving the players does not absolve UNC of any punishment from the NCAA, though. Typically the NCAA should have sent a letter of inquiry to the University and, following interviews and information gathering, a notice of allegations would follow if there were infractions.

The NCAA has hurried to send out a notice of allegations to Ohio State University, which is in the midst of an investigation into improper benefits received by football players and the head coach Jim Tressel lying to investigators.

But in Chapel Hill, there’s still no word from Indianapolis. And for now, the Tar Heels will keep playing football.

Contact the Sports Editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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