Recent scandals at odds with 'Carolina Way'
Posted December 18, 2013
Chapel Hill, N.C. — Among those present Wednesday night when Leslie McDonald returned to the court for the University of North Carolina were fans and broadcasters who remember when the Tar Heels set the standard for integrity.
That reputation has been tarnished in recent years as reports of athletes indulging in parties, trips, hotels and cash continue to swirl around the program.
First it was the football team. Fourteen players missed some or all of the games played in the 2010 season. The NCAA declared two of them, wide receiver Greg Little and defensive end Robert Quinn, permanently ineligible, and UNC kicked a third, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, off the team.
Then the stain spread to academics. When Michael McAdoo sued to get back his football eligibility, among the evidence were class assignments that appeared to have been largely lifted from other sources. A nine-month internal investigation into the Department of African and Afro-American Studies revealed unauthorized grades, forged signatures and other irregularities.
This year, the basketball team is under the microscope after junior guard P.J. Hairston notched three traffic violations during the offseason. In two of those stops he was driving rental cars connected to a Durham party promoter and convicted felon, leading to speculation that use of the vehicles may constitute an impermissible benefit and bring NCAA scrutiny again to Chapel Hill.
Leslie McDonald, a UNC senior, also has ties to the man known as "Fats," but he was allowed to return to the court Wednesday after a nine-game suspension. He was greeted by a standing ovation as he checked into the game.
The NCAA found McDonald accepted "multiple impermissible extra benefits" including access to cars, hotel rooms and a cell phone.
Longtime Triangle sports writer Barry Jacobs said that up until four years ago, UNC had the reputation of doing things the right way.
"I think it does as much damage to the self-image of the university and its supporters as it does to the image that will be portrayed to recruits and the world at large," he said.
Former UNC star Eric Montross disagreed, saying, "I am absolutely certain that the core integrity of this institution and the programs that represent and have these student-athletes as a part is of them is perfectly solid."
After the game, McDonald said it felt good to be back on the court. "It's truly an honor to be able to play out there and for those fans," he said.
"It was bittersweet because P.J. wasn't there," McDonald said. "It hurts deep down inside that you can't be out there with your family. That's what we call it. My brothers out there, giving their all. And just to be back, I was overjoyed."
The Tar Heels expect to have some clarity on Hairston's issues before the week is out, UNC spokesman Steve Kirschner said after the game.
"The University of North Carolina is working with PJ and his family to settle a few unresolved issues that remain, we expect to have this matter resolved at the end of the week," he said.
That outcome won't take the harsh spotlight off UNC.
"We all must learn from these situations and avoid the kind of problems that could jeopardize eligibility and our program's success," said UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham.