A half decade filled with various athletic and academic scandals that have rocked the University of North Carolina reached its apex on Thursday, as the school released the Notice of Allegations it received from the NCAA two weeks ago.
The clock has started on the university’s answer to the allegations as the school has 90 days to file a response, which will eventually lead to a meeting with the Committee of Infractions a few weeks later to determine the final ruling and doling out of any punishments.
As a proud 2013 UNC graduate, the conclusion of this nightmarish and embarrassing saga can’t come soon enough.
From the moment I stepped foot on campus as a freshman in 2010, the NCAA investigation lingered like an ominous cloud over my college career, and it has relentlessly followed as I continue to root for my Tar Heels from afar as a passionate alumni.
Within the first week or two of my time at the Daily Tar Heel, the student-run newspaper at the school, we featured story after grim story about the ongoing developments in the investigation, which at the time swirled around the football program. Former UNC star defensive lineman Marvin Austin took to Twitter to post a series of eye-raising tweets in the spring and summer of 2010 that attracted the attention of the NCAA and set off the chain of events that ensued.
The Tar Heels entered that season with enormous expectations — they were ranked in the preseason top 25 after fielding a top-10 defense the previous year, and many of its stars, including Austin, were projected to be high draft picks in the NFL Draft. They were scheduled to play Southeastern Conference powerhouse LSU in the season-opener, and hype surrounding the program climbed to a peak it hadn’t reached since Mack Brown patrolled the sidelines in the 1990s.
And in one fell swoop, that all dissipated as the NCAA announced the suspension of six starters (five that would eventually strap on a NFL helmet) and 13 total players a day before the LSU game. Three starters — Austin, Greg Little and now-St. Louis Rams star Robert Quinn — were eventually kicked off the team for accepting impermissible benefits from agents.
The disappointment on campus was palpable as the football team quickly faded into the mediocrity it has so often been mired in for the better part of the past decade. Of course, that was nobody’s fault but the players themselves, and even the university deserves its fair share of blame for the way it quickly albatrossed its student-athletes and distanced itself from their own at the first sign of hardship.
If only that were the end of the story.
As we all know now, those developments were just the tip of the proverbial UNC-scandal iceberg. Further investigations that uncovered severe cases of academic fraud led to the firing of then-football coach Butch Davis and eventual resignings of athletic director Dick Baddour and chancellor Holden Thorp. The football program was hit with NCAA sanctions in 2012 that vacated wins and banned the team from postseason play.
As the years passed, the troubles for the school continued to mount. An 18-year academic and athletic scandal, spearheaded by the likes of UNC staff members Julius Nyang’oro, Deborah Crowder and Jan Boxill, was uncovered by the Wainstein report last October, further sullying UNC’s reputation as the flagship university in the state. After the findings of the report were publicized, other sports, including the school’s crown jewel — men’s basketball — became tangled in a web so complex it’s difficult to decipher where it begins and ends.
Nearly a year after the NCAA reopened its investigation into the academic department, it finally handed down its allegations this week and I, for one, was happy to see the notification flash across my phone screen.
While the final punishment from the NCAA, however punitive, won’t be known until late this year or perhaps early 2016, this should be the beginning of the end of the near five-year narrative that has forever tainted a school I grew up rooting for. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, because I know UNC should be properly reprimanded for its egregious actions. No amount of reform can fix the mistakes of the past.
As current UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham put it this week, “This may be the longest game in the history of the world.” He mentioned this milestone with the NCAA marks the halfway point to the end of the process, and that comes as a relief to those anxious to move forward. The light that is the post-scandal era in UNC sports can be seen, if only faintly, at the end of what’s been a winding and twisting tunnel.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.