Report: Kentwan Balmer funded trip

Kentwan Balmer, a North Carolina alum who is now a defensive tackle with the San Francisco 49ers, paid for former Tar Heels teammates Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas to travel to California during summer 2009, Thomas told the Raleigh News and Observer.

" 'Twan paid for [the trip]," Thomas, currently with the San Diego Chargers, told the newspaper.

If Thomas' statement can be confirmed by the NCAA, Balmer paying for the trip could be a violation of the NCAA's "preferential treatment" bylaw, subjecting North Carolina to potential NCAA discipline.

Thomas told the newspaper that he and Austin worked out at the Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif., to prepare for the 2009 season. Thomas, who started all of UNC's games at defensive tackle in 2009 and was drafted in the fifth round by San Diego, didn't provide financial details or dates for the trip.

Austin, a senior defensive tackle for North Carolina, is projected as a high 2011 NFL draft pick.

Balmer, drafted in the first round by the 49ers in 2008, was given the day off at 49ers' practice on Tuesday. He also was absent from practice Monday.

"It's on Kentwan. As far as I'm concerned, we're going to continue to practice and do what we have to do. And Kentwan's got to make up his mind, in terms of how he's going to handle some of the personal issues that he has to handle," 49ers coach Mike Singletary said Tuesday on KNBR-680 in San Francisco.

"It's just like any other young man, or any other individual, sometimes things come up in life and you have to decide which is more important. And that is where Kentwan is," Singletary said. "Until he makes a decision, I'm going to give him
the time to handle it because there is certainly a lot on his plate right now."

Balmer was absent again Wednesday, however, and Singletary said his absence from camp is now unexcused.

Balmer told the San Jose Mercury News he has a meeting scheduled with Singletary on Wednesday and plans to return to the 49ers. He also echoed the team's stance that his absence was a personal matter.

"People are making a big deal about of nothing," Balmer told the newspaper. "I feel like the 49ers could do a better job of saying that, but it's not my place to say."

North Carolina's assistant athletic director for compliance told the News and Observer that there are is no set NCAA discipline for a former player paying for current players to travel.

"[It] would be interpretative based on the facts of the specific case," Amy Herman told the newspaper. She wouldn't comment on Thomas' statement to the News and Observer.

The NCAA is investigating whether North Carolina players received improper benefits from agents. The investigation in focused on Austin and wide receiver Greg Little.

When NCAA investigators revisited the North Carolina campus recently, they re-interviewed Austin and Little, sources told ESPN's Joe Schad.

North Carolina hopes the NCAA's inquiry is over before the season starts (vs. LSU, Sept. 4). But if not, the school will not risk using a player not cleared by the NCAA for fear of vacating wins if the player is later deemed ineligible, sources told ESPN.

That means it is possible neither Austin nor Little will take the field for the Tar Heels for the opener and beyond.

The Tar Heels are expected to contend for the ACC's Coastal Division title with a defense that returns nine starters from a unit that ranked among the nation's best last year.

Information from ESPN's Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.