For several months extending from summer to fall in 2010, the University toiled in the embarrassment that tales of impermissible benefits and academic misconduct deliver. But as the weeks and player reinstatements passed by, the hope for finality became rampant.
A source familiar with the investigation told IC in December 2010 that UNC officials had gotten to the point of in-depth research to try to get a handle on the level of penalties that could befall the program.
According to a source, the University was initially told to expect its Notice of Allegations as early as January 2011. Then it was pushed back to April, then May and then finally June 10. Each date came and went with little information from the NCAA.
The document finally arrived on June 21, prompting some close to the program to suggest that the NOA's arrival was a good thing simply because it meant the school was one step closer to the finish line.
The University issued its response to the NOA on Sept. 19, 2011, which included self-imposed penalties of vacated wins, scholarship losses and probation. Precedent appeared to back up those penalties as 22 of the 25 schools hit with a postseason ban in the previous two decades had also been saddled with a lack of institutional control, a charge that UNC avoided. And, per sources, UNC's direct communication with the NCAA at the time reaffirmed that this was a reasonable expectation.
NCAA guidelines explained that the University would receive its final report 8-12 weeks after its Committee on Infractions hearing on Oct. 28, but Jan. 20 – the last day of the suggested timeline – only provided frustration for the fan base.
As it turns out, associate head coach John Blake was responsible for the seven-and-a-half week delay, but the culprit was irrelevant on Monday. For a school and fan base well past the point of exhaustion, the 10 a.m. announcement that the COI's decision and penalties would be released later in the day fueled sighs of relief for most all of those involved.
The penalties, of course, were worse than expected.
"We were a little bit disappointed because we thought we had spent an awful lot of time projecting what the penalties would be, and they got to be a little bit more than that," athletic director Bubba Cunningham said on Monday night. "So that was the disappointing part for the senior class because they won't have the opportunity to play in the postseason."
Former athletic director Dick Baddour, who announced his retirement shortly following former head coach Butch Davis's firing in late July, told reporters during UNC's conference call on Monday that he thought the school's self-imposed penalties had been appropriate.
"You're always hopeful that others will see it like you do," Baddour said. "But I think the important thing now here is that we accept it and we move on."
The University's decision to not appeal its penalties echoes Baddour's last sentence.
And while a segment of the UNC fan base will undoubtedly continue to direct its anger toward Chancellor Holden Thorp, the reality of the situation is that if Davis were still head coach, Monday's developments would have only served to mark the beginning of a new media blitz of criticism. Instead, new head coach Larry Fedora – and Cunningham, for that matter – was viewed outside the parameters of the infractions report, leaving the primary focus on past transgressions.
There are no loose ends. The athletic director resigned, the head coach was fired, Blake has long since departed and every player found in violation of NCAA Bylaws has moved on.
Fedora has already brushed off the severity of the penalties, according to his new boss.
"We were a little disappointed, disheartened early, but Coach Fedora's attitude was absolutely remarkable," Cunningham said. "We wanted finality to the situation. We got that. We know what the future looks like and it's as bright as can be. His enthusiasm is infectious. He talked to the team and they're excited about spring practice coming up on Wednesday."
Monday wasn't a proud day for the University of North Carolina, but it was a day that the unknown became known. After 630 days underneath the NCAA cloud, the Tar Heels finally emerged focused on the future.
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