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UNC Football Under Fire: "This NCAA Investigation is Now Fully Operational!"

“I felt a great disturbance, as if millions of UNC fans suddenly cried out in terror … I fear something terrible has happened.”

So yep, that video is a pretty accurate metaphor for the news dropped by Yahoo! Sports yesterday regarding UNC’s football program, which seems to be poised to take a USC-sized hit in the very near future after news came out that it appears John Blake received a lot of money from an NFL agent:

Prominent NFL agent Gary Wichard and former University of North Carolina assistant football coach John Blake have engaged in multiple financial transactions since May of 2007, a four-month investigation by Yahoo! Sports has found.

Wichard and Blake are now at the center of NCAA and North Carolina Secretary of State probes, which are seeking to determine the nature and scope of alleged agent tampering involving the football program. Those investigations have also focused on Tar Heels defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who has made at least five trips that have come under scrutiny. Two of those trips included training at a California facility less than two miles from Wichard’s agency, Pro Tect Management. Yahoo! Sports has obtained a hotel receipt from one of those trips, which lists Austin’s name above Pro Tect Management, as well as an address and Marriott Rewards number belonging to an NFL marketing agent who represents two current Pro-Tect clients.

Yahoo’s article goes into very specific detail regarding Blake and Wichard’s financial dealings, along with providing copies of receipts from various transactions (yep, pretty sure that constitutes hard evidence) that involved hotel stays for former UNC player and first-round draft pick Kentwan Balmer and current (well, sort of) defensive lineman Marvin Austin, who as we all knew was at the center of the current NCAA investigation already.

Wichard and Blake are now at the center of NCAA and North Carolina Secretary of State probes, which are seeking to determine the nature and scope of alleged agent tampering involving the football program. Those investigations have also focused on Tar Heels defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who has made at least five trips that have come under scrutiny. Two of those trips included training at a California facility less than two miles from Wichard’s agency, Pro Tect Management…

But three sources said documents show the relationship between Wichard and Blake also extended into the financial realm several times over the past three years. Those instances included:

• At least six wire transfers from Wichard’s private bank – The First National Bank of Long Island – to Blake.

• A $45,000 personal loan to Blake from The First National Bank of Long Island.

• A Pro Tect Management credit card issued in Blake’s name.

A source familiar with the secretary of state’s probe told Yahoo! Sports that Blake has discussed the existence of the transactions with investigators.

I would try to explain what exactly this means but Tar Heel Fan does a much better job summarizing and providing some solid analysis on the tail end: 

To sum up: That is money changing hands from an agent to an assistant football coach. The presumption is Blake would steer players to Wichard. Now, Kentwan Balmer was the only UNC/Blake player to end up with Wichard. With money changing hands the lack of efficiency is not going to matter. The assumption will be it would happen again, possibly with Marvin Austin. If that was not enough to pretty much screw UNC football for the foreseeable future, there is Austin’s role which included two trips to California in 2009. One of those trips happened in early March, 2009. It was originally believe that Austin had simply stayed with Balmer in a hotel room paid for by the former Tar Heel. That was only partially true. Balmer’s name was on the hotel receipt but so was Pro Tect Management, Wichard’s company. The second trip actually had Austin’s name on the hotel receipt with Pro Tect’s name. Also listed on the receipt was the name of Faddie Mikhail, an NFL marketing agent.

Needless to say the article is in-depth, well sourced and leaves very little to the imagination as to what kind of violations UNC is now facing as a football program. The consensus among national writers and local media on Twitter is that UNC is royally screwed for years to come.

Great. Basically what they’re telling us is that the dream of UNC being competitive in football on a national level is going to have to be pushed back probably about a decade or so, judging by how programs have struggled to recover from this kind of thing in the past. It may seem like I’m overstating or hitting the panic button in saying that, but this, my friends, is definitely time to hit the panic button for Carolina. Just as it appears we were nearing the end of the various NCAA & academic investigations, the consequences will now be much more severe than what any of us as fans probably anticipated. Naturally, we’re not sure exactly what those consequences will be, but since UNC was already under a good amount of scrutiny from the NCAA and the investigation looks like it may very well extend beyond the scope of Chapel Hill, it’s tough not to imagine the NCAA making an example of the Tar Heel football program and bringing the axe down hard. We’re probably talking vacated wins, probation, loss of bowl eligibility and likely the permanent exit of some of the football players that were already being held out.

Speaking of exits, one of the big issues that arises here is whether or not UNC should just fire Butch Davis now and try to wipe the slate clean with someone else. Tar Heel Fan thinks Davis leaving is priority number 1 for the program right now, while Carolina March isn’t so sure. I always felt like Davis got a bit of a bad rap for being a part of formerly dirty programs like Miami (what people fail to remember is that he helped clean up the program after Dennis Erickson left) so it’s hard for me to say where I fall here. On the one hand, I want to give the guy a chance to plead his case and show himself to be innocent, but it definitely doesn’t look good when your defensive coordinator was flying your players around the country and you claim not to know about it. I wouldn’t mind seeing Davis ride out the storm he’s currently already a part of and finish the season at UNC, but at that point, for his own sake and the sake of the University’s image and future recruiting efforts, it would probably be best that he resign.

Make no mistake about it: Carolina’s reputation as a University that has always done things the right way and run a clean program took a big hit this week. It’s going to take a while to recover from this one.