The ruling, which was included in a press release following the annual ACC fall business meetings this week, reads as follows: “The decision was made that should a member institution be ineligible for postseason competition due to NCAA sanctions, it will be ineligible for regular season or divisional recognition.”
The new policy ends any Tar Heel hopes of a tangible benefit (i.e., trophy) for potentially winning the division, but doesn’t change head coach Larry Fedora’s previously stated goal. North Carolina’s sights remain set on posting the best record in its division, recognition or not.
Fedora told reporters following practice on Wednesday that he never expected the decision to work in UNC’s favor.
“We’re going to compete for it and that’s still our goal, one way or another,” Fedora said. “That’s the way we’re going to look at it, so it doesn’t change anything for us.”
Sophomore linebacker Tommy Heffernan echoed his head coach’s comments, saying the players assumed the end result to be what transpired at the ACC meetings.
“We want to win every game, regardless if its ACC or non-ACC,” Heffernan said. “It just proves things for the upcoming years. This is a brand new coaching staff; this a new era of Carolina football. If we run through ACC teams this year, all of a sudden next season, when we are eligible, people are going to start looking at us. That’s definitely a big thing and a confidence booster for the future guys here.”
For a North Carolina program that’s endured a lifetime’s worth of adversity over the last two years, Wednesday’s news was essentially a non-factor. The players built an emotional wall during the 2010 season and that defensive mechanism is still in place.
“The senior class here has been through so many different things to where they’ve always had that mentality,” Heffernan said. “They’ve always been behind the eight-ball on having to push through a lot of adversity, so that’s just another one. Everyone here is used to it by now. It’s kind of like we’ve got our teammates and coaches and we’ll stick together and fight to the end.”
The irony in the timing of the ACC’s announcement is that North Carolina has a pivotal Coastal Division clash on Saturday against Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels, who are favored by 5.5 point over the Hokies, could offset their loss to Wake Forest in Week 2 with a victory over the preseason division favorite.
When asked if he would consider UNC the division champs if his squad finished atop the standings, Fedora replied: “No doubt about it.”
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