Probes thus far have had little on-field impact on UNC football
Posted July 3
Regardless of how and when this latest NCAA investigation into UNC ends, there’s little chance it will take any sort of substantial toll on the football team’s performance this season.
Recent history has taught us that much.
This will be the fifth straight football season that will begin under some sort of probe for the Tar Heels and only once – 2011 – did the seemingly endless saga really have a major impact on how the team played.
Even then, it was more a case of the football players feeling ambushed by the awkward timing of Butch Davis’ firing than any sort of stifling from the NCAA and/or an institutional magnifying glass.
When Carolina fired Davis on July 27, 2011 and appointed assistant Everett Withers as interim coach, the players and coaching staff were dazed to such an extent that it was impossible for everyone to stay focused on the mission for an entire season.
That team did take a 5-1 overall record into mid-season but essentially imploded over the final six games, finishing 7-6 and 3-5 ACC. The administration then committed a mistake by accepting a bid to the Independence Bowl, where the Heels were lucky to escape with a 41-24 loss to Missouri. The team’s defense was so completely overwhelmed that it was obvious several of the players had no desire to play.
But other than 2011, the football team basically has managed to keep any probe distractions out of the locker room and certainly out of the huddle.
The 2012 team, Larry Fedora’s first, was ineligible for postseason play but would have won the ACC Coastal at 5-3 (8-4 overall) and lost three games by a combined total of nine points.
Davis’ final team in 2010 overcame close early losses to LSU and Georgia Tech to finish 4-4 in the conference, 8-5 overall and ended with a win over Tennessee in the Franklin Mortgage Bowl.
Last season’s 4-4 ACC, 7-6 overall record was in line with expectations even though the mid-season 1-5 record suggested pending disaster. Instead, the team adjusted to quarterback Bryn Renner’s season-ending injury in the eighth game and won the Belk Bowl with ease over Cincinnati. The one loss during the second half of the season was by two points to Coastal champ Duke.
After that 39-17 bowl win in Charlotte, Fedora and his team were convinced an important corner had been turned and great things might lie just ahead.
“I’m excited now, I’m telling you,” Fedora said after bowl. “I’m really excited about the future. We’re going in the right direction.”
Fedora, like his players, now will dearly detest the same ol’, same ol’ probe dialogue they will face during the ACC summer Kickoff event July 20-21 in Greensboro.
It’s unavoidable, of course. The NCAA’s return to campus will be a constant topic during the interview sessions.
The scandal seemingly has developed a life of its own and more than ever, the prospect of a stinging penalty is possible. If it’s true that former African and Afro-American Studies professor Julius Nyang’oro will testify in full detail about how and why the fraudulent grade process began, the potential reaction from the NCAA could be far more severe than anything that has happened to date.
But how long this stage of inquiry will last is impossible to predict. Private investigator Kenneth Wainstein said recently he hopes to complete his work by autumn, which begins Sept. 22. The NCAA could keep digging longer.
And yet through it all, the football program has been remarkably buoyant, winning its share of ACC and overall games and recruiting high school with above-average success. Most of the recruit rating services had the incoming class among the top 30 nationally and a handful of 4-star high school players already have committed to sign next February.
In many ways, it will be business as usual for the Heels.