Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86, in an interview Thursday with The News & Observer, said he had learned about two months ago that then-head football coach Butch Davis had offered Davis’ son, Drew, a football scholarship without consulting with Thorp or Athletics Director Dick Baddour ’66.
“I was disappointed that neither the athletic director nor I knew about that,” Thorp told The N&O. Thorp did not elaborate on how he learned of the scholarship offer. Also on Aug. 4, Thorp sent an email to campus colleagues and students explaining his decision to fire Davis and noting that he has asked Faculty Chair Jan Boxill to form a faculty committee to consider changes or improvement to the University’s honor system. His email did not mention Davis’ son.
On Friday, Thorp said that, in acknowledging the scholarship offer in his interview with The N&O, he had committed an NCAA secondary violation. “Yesterday I honestly answered a specific question asked by a reporter about a scholarship offer to a prospective student-athlete,” Thorp said in a statement released by UNC, according to The N&O. “I am advised that acknowledging the scholarship offer was an NCAA Level II Secondary violation, which I regret. In accordance with NCAA policy the University has voluntarily reported this to the ACC.”
The NCAA describes secondary violations as “isolated or inadvertent in nature.” NCAA rules prohibit discussion of possible recruits who have not signed letters of intent. Davis’ son, a senior at East Chapel Hill High School, has not signed a letter of intent.
Davis had issued a statement Thursday, according to The N&O, saying that he was “disappointed Chancellor Thorp has chosen to mention our son publicly as a part of his explanation for the decision to terminate my job.” Davis said that he had first heard of concerns about the recruiting of his son to UNC on July 22. He added that his son already had decided that, if he were to come to UNC, he would “do so as a walk-on in order to give someone else a scholarship opportunity to make the team.” Davis said that he and his wife also had decided to contribute a scholarship through the Carolina Family Scholarship fund, which provides need-based tuition scholarships to the children of qualifying Carolina employees who wish to attend any of the 16 UNC System campuses or community colleges in North Carolina.
Thorp told The N&O: “Drew is a good kid and I feel bad for him in all this … and for all I know, we would love to have him on the football team. But with everything going on, it would be good for the athletic director and the coach to talk about that and probably for all three of us to talk.”
Three of the allegations in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations involved former tutor Jennifer Wiley ’09, who also was hired by Davis as a tutor for his son. Wiley has been accused of providing extra benefits worth about $3,500 to players in the form of expenses for travel ($150) and parking ($1,789) and for tutoring ($1,562); committing academic fraud; and refusing to provide information to the NCAA and to UNC.
Thorp came in for heavy criticism in the days after Davis was fired, and a “fire Thorp” website soon surfaced. On Aug. 8, a group of lawyers, all alumni, filed a request for records of Thorp’s communications with some UNC officials. The group said it represented “a group of investors who, over the last year, invested considerable amounts of money in the Kenan Stadium end zone expansion project known as the ‘Blue Zone.’ ” One of the lawyers, Donald Brown ’82, told The N&O that his clients were “furious” about the timing of the firing and that they had invested based on Davis remaining as the coach.
On Aug. 12, UNC President Tom Ross ’75 (JD) and UNC Board of Governors Chair Hannah Gage ’75 today released a joint statement:
“The President and the UNC Board of Governors reaffirm our full support of Chancellor Holden Thorp’s leadership. The Board heard from Chancellor Thorp [Aug. 11] about issues related to the NCAA investigation of the UNC-Chapel Hill football program and his recent decision to remove the head football coach. We are well aware that there are some alumni and other friends of UNC-Chapel Hill who strongly support the decision to make a coaching change, some who vehemently oppose it, and others who support the decision, but not its timing. We also know that making difficult and unpopular decisions comes with the job of being a university chancellor, and that Chancellor Thorp is committed to doing everything possible to maintain both academic integrity and athletic success at Carolina. We are confident the two can co-exist. We are also confident that the many positive initiatives and innovations being carried out under his leadership will ensure that UNC-Chapel Hill remains one of America’s premier public universities.”