CHAPEL HILL – (UPDATED) The NCAA’s investigation into North Carolina’s football program – which began with a probe into possible improper contact between players and agents – has expanded into academics, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said tonight.
Flanked by Tar Heels football coach Butch Davis and athletic director Dick Baddour, Thorp said that during a joint investigation with the NCAA, the school learned of possible academic misconduct that involves a former undergraduate tutor and student-athletes on the football team.
“We are treating this issue with the seriousness you would expect from this University,'' Thorp said. "We will straighten this out. We are still gathering information, but … we hope the scope of this is limited."
Davis said the tutor in question "is someone that has previously been employed by our family" to be an academic coach and academic adviser for his son.
"This is someone who worked with our son, and to be honest with you, we're a little bit surprised and possibly disappointed,'' Davis said of the tutor. "But there's been no revelation ... as to what actually transpired."
Baddour said the focus of the academic investigation is on the football team, but added that the school would look at it as an opportunity to take a look into the tutoring program within other athletic programs.
Baddour said Davis “still has my support.”
Baddour also said that although they would like to finish the investigation before the Tar Heels' football opener next weekend against Louisiana State, “it is likely the review will extend beyond the start of the season.”
"The investigation now how two prongs," he added. "I want to caution you about making assumptions if student-athletes don't play. ... We resolve to find any misconduct and deal with it seriously."
Baddour said he could not talk the number of players involved, or name the tutor, who has since been terminated.
"We are looking at improprieties that occurred outside the classroom," he said.
UNC professors Jack Evans and Lissa Broome (both former faculty athletics representatives), senior associate athletic director John Blanchard, Lance Markos from the compliance staff and university lawyers all are part of the team looking into the possible academic misconduct, Baddour said.
For about two months, the NCAA and the school have been investigating allegations of a possible improper relationship between sports agents and UNC football players. An undisclosed number of players were interviewed when NCAA investigators visited campus July 12 and 13, and investigators conducted more interviews during a return trip earlier this month.
Defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little were among the players interviewed. The investigation also involves associate head coach John Blake.
One potential violation of NCAA rules occurred when former UNC defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer paid for Austin and then Tar Heel defensive tackle Cam Thomas to train in California in the summer of 2009. Thomas confirmed that Balmer paid for the trip, which may be construed as an extra benefit by the NCAA.
Thomas and Austin trained at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif., where clients of California-based agent Gary Wichard of Pro Tect Management train for the NFL draft.
Blake, the North Carolina assistant coach, is a former Pro Tect vice president and a longtime associate of Wichard, who also is Balmer's agent.
Austin also was connected with the NCAA's investigation at the University of South Carolina, where the NCAA also has interviewed multiple players, including Gamecocks tight end Weslye Saunders.
Saunders was asked about his friendship with Austin, his online interaction with Austin on the social media site Twitter, and a trip to Washington, D.C., according to Weslye's father Barry Saunders, a metro columnist for The News & Observer.
UNC announced the Thursday night press conference around mid-afternoon, shortly after Davis' regularly scheduled pre-practice briefing with the media was abruptly canceled. The early portion of practice, which was scheduled to be open to the media, also was closed.
-- Robbi Pickeral