There’s only one way the NCAA gets UNC investigation wrong: a 2016 postseason ban

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The saga of North Carolina’s academic scandal finally took a step towards completion on Friday, as the school announced that it had finally received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA.

It’s been nearly a year since the association announced last June that they would be reopening the investigation into UNC’s so-called ‘paper classes’, and based on the recent evidence that has been unearthed — from Rashad McCants’ claims that he and his 2005 national title-winning teammates were steered towards the sham classes to the number of people willing to speak now that the Wainstein Report has been made public — the Tar Heels could be looking at a myriad of potential sanctions.

Scholarships may be pulled. Recruiting sanctions could be implemented. Wins might be vacated. Hell, even that 2005 national title banner could be in jeopardy. No one will know until the school decides to make the Notice of Allegations public, and that has not happened yet.

But the 2005 title isn’t the one that has Tar Heel fans concerned. Taking down a banner from a title UNC won when they were eight years old isn’t what scared Class of 2015 talents like Brandon Ingram — a North Carolina native, a one-time Tar Heel lean and a soon-to-be Duke Blue Devil — away from Chapel Hill.

It’s the threat of the unknown, the fear of what could be coming when the NCAA finally does punish the program.

And if the NCAA is to get this punishment right, than under no circumstances should the Tar Heels be given a 2016 postseason ban.

None.

Because the people that would be bearing the brunt of that bludgeoning would be the athletes themselves. Not the ones that used those paper classes to stay eligible, win a national title and launch their NBA careers — like McCants, Ray Felton, Marvin Williams and Sean May did — but the ones that returned to school this spring, that decided to forgo the chance to turn pro and instead have the Tar Heels sitting at No. 1 in NBCSports.com preseason top 25.

It would be guys like Marcus Paige, a rising senior — and a double-major in journalism and history that will probably be taking my job in a decade and certainly doesn’t need to lean on fake classes to thrive in school — that was a ten-year old in Iowa when McCants was (allegedly) cheating his way to a ring.

It would be guys like Brice Johnson — who went from being too skinny to be effective to having arguably the best turnaround jumper in college basketball — and Kennedy Meeks — who has last 70 pounds of fat since he arrived on campus — that would miss out on trying to win that ring. Isaiah Hicks went from being too shy and nervous to live up to the hype of being a top 20 recruit to being North Carolina’s best big man in practice more often than not. Nate Britt literally changed shooting hands between his freshman and sophomore seasons to try to get better.

What did they do to deserve having a postseason taken away from them?

Roy Williams’ legacy has already been tarnished with this scandal. Fair or not, regardless of what the NCAA is able to make stick, he’s always going to be known as the coach that made a mockery of the ‘Carolina Way’. Having to take a national title banner down is embarrassing, but losing two Final Fours hasn’t slowed John Calipari down yet.

But that’s all in the past.

Justin Jackson, Joel Berry, Joel James, Theo Pinson.

Those are the people that would be punished if the NCAA were to ban North Carolina from the 2016 postseason. Those are the people that would be hurt the most if the university, like Syracuse back in February, opted midseason to self-impose a postseason ban.

Now, to be fair, the situation with Syracuse was different.

The Orange weren’t going to be competing for a national title like North Carolina will be next season.  They likely would not have even made the NCAA tournament, and implementing a postseason ban last season meant giving up the NIT and being eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2015-16. It accelerated the process without any tangible punishment; one could argue that, for a program like Syracuse, no postseason is less embarrassing than an NIT.

I get it.

But that doesn’t make their decision to take away the opportunity to try and play themselves into the NCAA tournament — particularly from a senior like Rakeem Christmas — any less despicable.

And that’s not to say that North Carolina shouldn’t ever be banned from the postseason.

If the NCAA wants to take away the 2017 ACC and NCAA tournaments from the Tar Heels, have at it. It gives the players currently on the team fair warning. They’d be able to transfer, or turn pro, or even remain a Tar Heel knowing full-well what the future held for them.

That’s not the case for next March. Here’s the current timeline for the NCAA’s investigation: the due date for UNC’s response to the Notice of Allegations, barring an extension, is August 22nd, 90 days after it was received. The NCAA would then have 60 days — until October 22nd, assuming there were no extensions granted — to reply. From there, UNC will need to get placed on the docket for the Committee on Infractions.

This is where it gets complicated. Following the COI hearing, the NCAA will usually takes two-to-three months to hand down a ruling. Selection Sunday next season is March 13th. The NCAA is required to five advanced notice for any COI hearing, and with the holidays in November and December, it’s unclear when UNC would actually get their date in the NCAA’s Kangaroo Court.

But regardless of when that times comes, the Tar Heels will already be in the throes of their season.

They will have already started conference play. They will have already been placed in every Bracketology that gets published. They will have already gotten themselves into a position to earn a No. 1 seed.

Marcus Paige — a senior, a preseason all-american and a potential National Player of the Year — will be weeks away from his best, and final, shot at taking home a national championship.

To take that away from him is considerably more evil than a basketball program enabling bad students that didn’t give a damn about their education in the first place.

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.