Hairston’s outlook shifted from one of minimal severity to season ending. Following a string of traffic citations that resulted in being indefinitely suspended on July 28, sources say the junior wing was still expected to emerge from the NCAA rental car cloud with a suspension length in the five-game range.
Faculty attending an Aug. 15 meeting with UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham reported Cunningham saying that Hairston would play this season, “but not all the games.” Hairston told the Daily Tar Heel on Aug. 28 that he expected to suit up this season, but was "not sure how long I’ll have to sit out."
As the calendar turned to fall, however, UNC and the NCAA spoke with several individuals with knowledge of Hairston’s rental car usage. According to NCAA documents released on Wednesday, enforcement staff interviews were conducted in September and October, including interviews with at least two UNC men’s basketball players on Oct. 24.
The information obtained in those interviews revealed additional improper benefits, but most importantly exposed information that was allegedly inconsistent with Hairston’s previously provided statements, according to sources.
That timeline mirrors Roy Williams’s change in approach in addressing Hairston’s eligibility concerns. At Late Night with Roy on Oct. 25, Williams told reporters that he was not ready to make a decision on Hairston, furthering the notion that he was going to be the one to decide the length of the suspension. Two weeks later, the 11th-year UNC head coach indicated that his role in the process was “waiting for somebody to tell me what’s going on.”
While the details that would ultimately dictate Hairston’s fate became clear after those Oct. 24 interviews, UNC intended to package the decision along with Leslie McDonald’s case once it was resolved. According to sources, UNC and the NCAA went back and forth on the length of McDonald’s suspension over a period of weeks. The NCAA, according to sources, ultimately reduced its initial proposed length by half.
The NCAA declined to provide IC with the sliding scale it uses to determine penalties for impermissible benefits cases “because there are a number of factors that are considered when determining any appropriate withholding for reinstatement decisions.”
McDonald’s reinstatement request from UNC provides a guideline for that sliding scale in stating that the senior guard was “subject to a 30% withholding penalty because the value of the impermissible benefits he received has been determined to be greater than $700.”
UNC also asked for consideration for McDonald sitting out one practice scrimmage and one exhibition game even though the NCAA’s reinstatement directive doesn’t allow for those contests to be used to fulfill a reinstatement condition.
The NCAA announced on Wednesday that McDonald had been suspended nine games and must repay $1,783 to a charity of his choice for receiving impermissible extra benefits, which include the use of luxury cars, payment of parking tickets, a cell phone and lodging.
In the report was the acknowledgement that "McDonald’s reinstatement request is the only one the NCAA has received from North Carolina.” This highlights the key distinction in how UNC handled its investigation of Hairston. According to sources, UNC intended to control and rule on the Hairston investigation and decision itself, rather than leave it solely in the hands of the NCAA.
The NCAA’s initial interest in Hairston last spring began as an investigation into his relationship with Rodney Blackstock, the founder of a sports mentoring academy in Greensboro, N.C. USA Today reported in early May that Blackstock, who played basketball at UNCG in 2003-04, paid thousands of dollars to Darius Cobb, the AAU coach of former Kansas guard Ben McLemore.
Cunningham told the Associated Press in June that the school was investigating whether Blackstock had improper ties with Hairston or any other UNC athlete. Blackstock was reportedly at the Maui Invitational when the Tar Heels participated in 2012.
According to a source, Blackstock’s relationship with Hairston did not play a role in the final ruling.
The NCAA expanded its inquiry of Hairston when the junior was arrested at a license checkpoint in Durham on June 5 while driving a rented 2013 GMC Yukon. The charges resulting from the arrest – misdemeanor marijuana possession and driving without a license - were ultimately dropped.
USA Today first reported the Yukon had been rented by Haydn "Fats" Thomas of Durham over a three-day period for a cost of $1,261.64. The paper also reported that Hairston was cited for speeding in Durham on May 13 driving a 2012 Chevrolet Camaro rented under the name of Catinia Farrington, who shares the same home address as Thomas.
As InsideCarolina.com detailed in this article six weeks ago, the handling of the Hairston situation put Williams at odds with the UNC administration over the summer. According to a source, Cunningham was in favor of indefinitely suspending Hairston early in the process, while Williams was against that approach.
Williams hinted during a July 15 statement – his first comments regarding the situation – that a suspension was not necessary until the process was complete. His hand was forced, however, following Hairston’s traffic citation for reckless driving in late July. And three months later, once the alleged inconsistencies were discovered, Williams came to terms with the fact that he indeed could no longer control Hairston’s fate.
Hairston and his family were informed on Wednesday by UNC officials that the school would not seek reinstatement and UNC made the announcement by way of press release on Friday.