Possible Academic Misconduct New Focus of Football Probe

Chancellor Holden Thorp, football coach Butch Davis and Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66. (Photo by Robert Willett / The News and Observer)

“To everyone who loves this University, I’m sorry for what I have to tell you.”
With that Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86 opened a news conference called by the athletics department Aug. 26 to reveal that, in the course of the NCAA investigation into the football program, UNC and the NCAA uncovered possible academic misconduct involving an undergraduate student tutor and some players on the football team.

The tutor was identified as having worked for Coach Butch Davis’ family for about two years as an “academic adviser” for his son. Beyond that, Thorp, Davis and Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66 offered few details. They declined to say whether the potential misconduct occurred during the tutor’s employment with Davis. They also declined to say how many players might be involved or to describe the nature of the misconduct. Baddour described the misconduct as “improprieties [that] occurred outside the classroom.”

Thorp said that when it was determined to be an academics issue, UNC officials talked with the NCAA and that the NCAA agreed to let the University investigate.

Baddour said the matter of concern with the tutor came to light in an interview with a player that was related to the NCAA investigation that has been going on for most of the summer. The initial probe involves dealings between a Carolina player or players and professional sports agents that might violate NCAA rules. UNC officials have had little to say about that investigation, citing confidentiality agreements with NCAA investigators.

On Sept. 5, however, John Blake, associate head football coach, resigned, effective immediately. Blake was in his fourth season as a member of the coaching staff.

Blake, considered one of the game’s top recruiters, and Davis have known and worked together for more than 35 years. Media reports have linked Blake to the NCAA probe.

In the course of the ongoing review, Baddour said at the Aug. 26 news conference, the University learned of possible academic misconduct involving the tutor — acknowledged to be a female but not identified — and “student-athletes.” He said the NCAA had given its permission for UNC to make the announcement.

“We don’t yet know the extent of the issue,” Baddour said. “We will get to the bottom of this.”

Jack Evans, a professor in the business school who now heads UNC’s efforts to develop the Carolina North campus, and law Professor Lissa Broome will lead the University’s investigation. Evans has years of experience as UNC’s representative to the NCAA and has served on the NCAA Management Council.

Broome has served as the University’s faculty athletics representative to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the NCAA. In early September, Winston Crisp ’92 (JD), UNC’s vice chancellor for student affairs, joined the effort looking into academic misconduct.

In a development that appears to be unrelated, the football team announced Sept. 1 that defensive tackle Marvin Austin had been suspended from the team indefinitely and would not play in the high-profile nationally televised game against LSU Sept. 4. The statement from Davis said Austin had violated team rules and that the suspension was not related to the NCAA investigation.

Two days later, on the eve of the LSU game, the University announced that a total of six football players would be ineligible for the LSU game because school and/or NCAA rules had been broken, and the UNC announcement said it was withholding at least six other players while the investigation continues.

On Friday morning, UNC was waiting to establish the eligibility of three other players. Later in the day, two of those were cleared to play.

In all, 13 Tar Heels players did not travel to Atlanta Friday for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, which UNC lost 30-24.

Baddour expressed support for Davis, now in his fourth season as head coach. “I believe in the leadership of this football program. He has my support,” Baddour said.

In response to a question, Baddour said he didn’t know whether the tutor issue would have been discovered if not for interviews conducted for the original probe. He said rules governing tutors were explicit, that they sign statements saying they understand the rules and that they are asked at the end of the year whether they have experienced anything that might fall afoul of the rules.

“Nevertheless, we are talking about potential misconduct,” he added.

“We will straighten this out,” Thorp said. “We will find out what happened. We will not let these mistakes define us.”

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