The verdict is in and the news is not good for North Carolina. A NCAA investigation regarding improper benefits and other violations under former coach Butch Davis has concluded, with the NCAA levying some significant penalties against the program. North Carolina was found to have committed multiple violations, including academic fraud, failure to monitor, ineligible participation of players and impermissible agent benefits.
As a result of the violations, the Tar Heels were slapped with a one-year postseason ban (2012), placed the program on three years probation and penalized the team with a reduction of 15 scholarships. In addition to being ineligible for a bowl game in 2012, if North Carolina wins the Coastal Division, it won’t be allowed to participate in the ACC Championship.
North Carolina will be the second team banned from postseason play next year, as Ohio State was already barred from competing in the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. Miami and Oregon are still awaiting an announcement from the NCAA on investigations into its programs and both could be hit with a bowl ban for 2012.
Although losing 15 scholarships over three years is going to hurt the program, it’s not a significant blow (30 over three years) like USC received from the NCAA. The Tar Heels will have to be a little more selective in the recruiting process and depth could be an issue in certain spots, but overall, North Carolina shouldn’t suffer too much on the field due to the scholarship reductions.
The Tar Heels will also be forced to vacate wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, while former assistant coach John Blake has been hit with a three-year show-cause penalty. The investigation concluded Blake was paid by an agent for access to players on the North Carolina roster . The show-cause penalty will likely end any hope Blake has of returning to the collegiate coaching ranks. Former head coach Butch Davis was fired before the start of the 2011 season and will work as an assistant with new Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. Davis was not hit with a show-cause penalty.
With this unknown finally removed from the program, North Carolina can move forward and turn the focus back to the field. But how will these sanctions and NCAA penalties affect this team in 2012?
Considering the Tar Heels were building some momentum with the hire of Larry Fedora as their new coach, along with the return of quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard, it’s a huge blow not being able to compete in a bowl or the ACC title this season. North Carolina was going to be picked anywhere from second to fifth in the unpredictable Coastal, but was expected to be one of the ACC's bowl teams and contend for at least eight wins next year.
With no bowl or conference title to play for, it’s fair to wonder if the expectations should be lowered for North Carolina in 2012. A NCAA investigation hung around the Miami program last year, and the Hurricanes finished with a disappointing 6-6 record. The Tar Heels clearly know what’s ahead and the obstacles facing the program in 2012, 2013 and 2014. However, with some talented pieces returning on offense, it’s a setback not being able to compete for the conference title. With no bowl or conference title on the line, it's all about pride for the Tar Heels in 2012.
The real danger for North Carolina is not allowing the scholarship reductions and bowl ban put the program into a slide. However, with Fedora’s solid track record at Southern Miss, it’s hard to imagine the Tar Heels slipping too far in the Coastal and this team should be back in a bowl in 2013.
Considering none of the sanctions were on Fedora’s watch, the bowl ban and scholarship reductions should buy him more time. Knowing he would need some time to drive the program out of potential sanctions, Miami made a clear and long-term commitment to coach Al Golden at the end of 2011. North Carolina’s case isn’t as severe as the Hurricanes, but Fedora will need time to restock the 15 lost scholarships. After undergoing a lot of turmoil recently, the Tar Heels need to focus on giving Fedora whatever he needs to win and bring some stability to a program that is capable of being a contender in the ACC Coastal.
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