North Carolina chancellor Holden Thorp looked like he was sitting on a tack.
This has turned into quite an uncomfortable, embarrassing situation for the university’s academic and athletic officials.
On Thursday evening, Thorp announced that UNC is looking into “possible academic misconduct involving a former undergraduate tutor and student-athletes on the football team.” That’s in addition to the current NCAA investigation into improper conduct with agents.
Buried on the depth chart is the fact that the Tar Heels play No. 21-ranked LSU in nine days.
While university officials are knee-deep in a public relations nightmare, coach Butch Davis is tasked with preparing his team without knowing which players might not be available. This can only go in two directions: A) The team rallies together in an effort to prove that none of this has detracted from their focus, or B) UNC implodes, and it starts in Atlanta against the Tigers.
From the outside looking in, the latter appears to be more likely.
Athletic director Dick Baddour said final decisions haven’t been made yet about which -- if any -- players might be ruled ineligible for the season opener. He said he doesn’t expect the NCAA’s investigation to conclude before the opening kickoff.
"We're working as hard as we can with the NCAA to bring those things into resolution,” Baddour said. "It's a difficult situation for Coach and the players to prepare. We're proceeding with this as fast as we know how. Coach has got to make some assumptions about how he prepares for the game. Because we get to a certain point next week and we don't have a declaration on a player, we're not backing off. We're going after that full force."
Baddour cautioned the media in the room -- twice -- about making assumptions if student-athletes don’t play against LSU. He wouldn't say how many players are being investigated for possible academic misconduct because university officials are still in the early stages of the investigation and there could be more.
The only two athletes connected with the investigation into agents so far have been receiver Greg Little and defensive tackle Marvin Austin. Those two alone could potentially change the outcome of a game. Both of them are three-year starters, but they have spent the summer working with the second team.
“Before the start of training camp, because of the speculation on some of these issues, I made the statement at press conferences that there would come a point in time in preparation for this first game that we would have to prepare with the players we assumed fully would be able to compete and play in this game, and that's what we've done,” Davis said. “We started that process on Monday."
Instead of gaining more clarity in the weeks since the NCAA’s investigation was announced, North Carolina’s situation -- and its depth chart -- has only gotten murkier.