North Carolina meets with NCAA

INDIANAPOLIS -- The uncertainty that has engulfed the North Carolina football program for 15 months is finally nearing an end.

North Carolina officials appeared before an NCAA infractions committee Friday regarding violations. The school already has imposed penalties following the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct, which led to the firing of head coach Butch Davis and prompted the looming early exit of athletic director Dick Baddour.

The committee is expected to make a ruling in eight to 12 weeks.

"It's not resolved, but absolutely, we feel relieved," Baddour said. "We felt prepared for today, and so while I think our team had some anxiety, I think what was rewarding was that we found that we were prepared."

The 7½-hour hearing was to determine whether UNC's self-imposed penalties -- including vacated wins and scholarship reductions -- will be enough to avoid further punishment.

The school announced last month that it would vacate all 16 wins from 2008 and 2009, reduce nine scholarships over three years, put its football program on probation for two years, and pay a $50,000 fine. Fourteen players missed at least one game and seven were forced to miss an entire season -- with four of those declared permanently ineligible or dismissed from the team.

Chancellor Holden Thorp doesn't expect further sanctions.

"Of course, I'm anxious to hear the response of the committee, but I'm not overly worried," he said. "I think we had a good opportunity to make our case. I think our response was very clear. I think what they were looking for was clear."

Baddour, Thorp, associate athletic director for compliance Amy Herman, faculty athletic representative Lissa Broome and university counsel Leslie Strohm represented the school.

ACC commissioner John Swofford, Baddour's predecessor at UNC, and Shane Lyons, the ACC's assistant commissioner for compliance and governance, also attended the hearing.

The hearing represents Baddour's last major task after 14 years as athletic director. He was in the last year of his contract when Thorp fired Davis a week before training camp, and decided to step down because his status could hinder hiring a new coach. Tulsa's Bubba Cunningham, Baddour's successor, will start work Nov. 14 and is expected to make the hire.

The NCAA sent a notice of allegations to North Carolina in June outlining nine violations. It accused former associate head coach John Blake of providing "false and misleading information" to both NCAA investigators and the school regarding his relationship with late NFL agent Gary Wichard.

Blake attended with his attorneys, who have denied allegations that Blake worked to steer players to Wichard, a longtime friend who also transferred more than $31,000 to Blake from 2007-09 in transactions they have described as loans during tough financial times. The NCAA said Blake failed to report that income from Wichard's firm, Pro Tect Management LLC.

The notice stated that seven players received more than $27,000 in improper benefits in 2009 and 2010. In addition, the NCAA alleged unethical conduct by former tutor Jennifer Wiley for refusing to cooperate with the investigation and providing about $3,500 worth of extra benefits in travel, parking expenses and free tutoring to players.

The school also was cited for failing to monitor "social media activity" of the team in 2010, as well as the conduct of former player Chris Hawkins. Hawkins was previously connected to trips to Atlanta and Las Vegas made by cornerback Kendric Burney, and paid $1,000 for the jersey of Georgia's A.J. Green -- a transaction that resulted in Green's four-game suspension because the NCAA said Hawkins qualified as an agent. Hawkins had hung around the program and players in recent years, but has since been told to stay away.

Blake isn't sure how the committee will respond.

"All you can do is hope and pray," he said.

The school was glad to finally have its say in front of the committee.

"I feel that we definitely had an opportunity to present our case," Baddour said. "I feel that they listened, they responded. I thought their questions were on target and I feel tremendous about our responses."

The lengthy process added to the anxiety around the program.

"The case is very complicated, and it takes a long time to give everybody a fair chance to respond," Thorp said. "That's what creates this lengthy time period, which has obviously been very challenging for the university, as it is for any university that goes through this. I think that the amount of time it takes is one of the hardest parts."