INJURIES IN CHAPEL HILL – THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM NO MORE

A few weeks ago we discussed UNC Football’s sudden and previously unexplained bout with Stunted Growth Syndrome. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, please take time to do so. The links are summarized, but the meat of the stories linked are quite informative beyond the blurbs. Essentially for the last three years the Heels have worn out the excuse that they’re too young to possibly meet ridiculous expectations that annually arise from UNC alumni’s firm grip on the media hype machine. This story, the unsubstantiated preseason hype of the Tar Heels under Davis over the last two years, is an issue in and of itself and may ultimately lead to Butch Davis’ demise. We saw something similar occur over time to our own Chuck Amato whose teams often failed to live up to the preseason hype. Similarly to what we’re seeing in Chapel Hill this year, Amato’s strong recruiting classes of mostly skill players seemed to struggle to find consistency due to weak offensive line play. Coach Davis could very well find himself battling similar demons as the Heel’s preseason ranking based on similar classes could fall at an embarrassing rate should they lose to ECU today. If ECU is victorious, I believe you will need to look no further than UNC’s inability to establish a running game and/or inabilitiy to protect TJ Yates who might find it wise to get some life insurance before the season’s end. The connection between ECU and UNC is what brings us to the topic at hand.

UNC is reeling after the loss of their starting tight end and number one receiver as Zack Pianalto went down with a dislocated foot/ankle joint celebrating the Heel’s only touchdown against UConn. UNC’s already ailing offensive line looked mighty weak if not downright deplorable last Saturday even prior to the loss of Pianalto. About the performance in the UConn game Davis said, ““We struggled in some areas on the offensive line, but I thought they gained their composure.” With the additional loss of Pianalto, UNC is out 4 of its top 7 blockers. The Charlotte Observer reported this after the UConn debacle:

As for the three starters who missed the UConn game, Davis said their status will be updated throughout the week. The absence of left guard Jonathan Cooper (ankle), center Lowell Dyer (shoulder) and fullback Bobby Rome (flu), meant North Carolina was without three of its seven primary blockers.

The missing parts showed up in the running game. The Tar Heels ran for 35 yards on 38 attempts, after a 261-yard outburst in the opener. Shaun Draughn, who had 118 yards against The Citadel, was limited to 21 yards on 14 carries by UConn.

And that has to leave the Carolina faithful wondering what, if anything, can be done about the true lack of depth developing due to legitimate injury. With UNC going against a relatively strong ECU team, this weekend could be an absolute train wreck for the Heels. There’s some irony in the strength of ECU when it comes to UNC. A decent number of ECU players over the last several years are guys who committed to UNC, but they failed to qualify to play in the ACC and ultimately landed in Greenville. One of the gems of UNC’s “larger-than-life class” (we’ll get to that in a second) from last year, Justin Dixon (4 star RB/LB Smithfield-Selma), failed to qualify and is enrolled at ECU taking classes. He opted to do so instead of going the the junior college route in hopes of enrolling at UNC on a later date. Dixon, I believe, will not be playing against UNC today but it’s worth mentioning because others will be. (Admittedly, NC State has at least one former commit who is now at ECU after failing to qualify.)

UNC’s already depleted offensive line that struggled against the UConn Huskies has suffered more losses, and T.J. Yates has lost his favorite target that’s not a wide receiver turned running back turned wide receiver. The young guys who made up the accolade-winning recruiting classes of the past few years for Butch that did qualify and did not wind up elsewhere like ECU are understandably struggling to get acquainted to the speed of the college game. That’s a difficult transition for all young college football players regardless of the number of stars anointed them by the recruiting gurus. But surely there are some upperclassmen around to help fill the void while some guys heal and others mature? Right? Not really.

Some chickens are coming home to roost over in Chapel Hill and it’s a situation that started a long, long time ago. And for whatever reason, many news outlets have turned a blind eye toward it. The natural losses of a grueling season are upon us only two weeks into the year, and the elephant in the room is becoming increasingly unavoidable.

THE ELEPHANT

Not long ago, J.P. Giglio made a valiant effort to explain the previously unexplainable. Here is Giglio’s effort to explain UNC’s player turnover.

As a senior on North Carolina’s football team, left tackle Kyle Jolly is in the minority. Of the 79 scholarship players on the Tar Heels’ roster, 11 are seniors.

There are 27 freshmen, including redshirts, 22 juniors and 19 sophomores.

Jolly, who was recruited by former coach John Bunting, said he expected some roster attrition when Butch Davis replaced Bunting after the 2006 season. Since then, 26 players who had at least one season of eligibility remaining are no longer on the team.

The exits include players who graduated, transferred, left the team, were dismissed from the team or were put on medical hardship.

“I think any time a coach takes over a program, he’s going to try to make some room,” Jolly said.

Giglio, to his credit, takes a shot at categorizing the various forms of attrition that collectively make up the quite convenient whole of “free scholarships” just in the nick of time. North Carolina coach Butch Davis over-recruited going in to the 2009 season by signing 29 players despite losing only 12 seniors last season.

Giglio reports that since ’08 sixteen (16) players have exited the UNC program prematurely. Of those 16 sheep who left early only one (1) left for greener pastures: Hakeem Nicks. Nicks left early to go pro and was drafted by the New York Giants in the first round (29th overall). The other fifteen (15) or 94% of the focus group left for less-than-greener-pastures, for lack of a better word. Of the entire focus group of 16, nine (9) would have been seniors. Currently, however, UNC has 27 freshmen, including redshirts, 22 juniors and 19 sophomores, and 11 seniors. So what if those 9 seniors were still around? That would give the program approximately the following look this year: 18 freshmen, including redshirts, 22 juniors, 19 sophomores and 20 seniors. With that sort of class displacement you’re talking about a team pretty much in line with most, and you’re certainly not discussing a team able to play the youth card (for the third year running). To be fair, five (5) out of 16 graduated early and opted not to play football with their final year of eligibility. All of these young men are obviously Bunting’s recruits. These guys could be heading to medical school for all we know, but the bottom line is that IF there wasn’t an underclassman already lined up to take those minutes they would most likely stick around for a free year of graduate school, football and all the perks of the BMOC lifestyle. Afterall, that is why you red shirt in the first place, right? Clearly they were given that option, right? Maybe.

THE OVER-SIGNING OF PLAYERS BY BUTCH DAVIS AND OTHERS

The practice of over-signing by big time college football programs has gained popularity in recent years. Houston Nutt took thirty-eight (38) signed Letter of Intents last year at Ole Miss. His actions prompted the SEC to finally cut the head off of a monster that was growing out of control. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) banned over-signing last spring. Now SEC schools can only sign twenty-eight (28), that’s three (3) more than the absolute maximum class size of twenty-five (25). Let that sink in for a second. The SEC banned this practice. The SEC. If the SEC is concerned that this sort of manipulation leads to coaches running afoul of other rules, then this is a serious problem. Who loses? The fans? Nah. The schools? Nah. The coaches? Nah. The players/kids? Absolutely.

When asked about his over-signing of players by Sports Illustrated Coach Davis explained it away as follows:

“What you’re trying to do is target kids that want to come to the University of North Carolina,” Davis said. “We have a plan for every kid that falls into that category — whether it’s a grayshirt opportunity because of an injury, whether it’s an academic situation where someone may have to go to a postgraduate [school], whether it’s somebody that they need some age, some maturity. … There’s a variety of different guys that this fits.”

Davis, like the other coaches, knows the key is to be up front with the players during the recruiting process. That will spare player and coach from heartache down the road. Because even though the NCAA doesn’t regulate oversigning, the 25 a year and 85 total scholarship rules won’t change anytime soon.

“Here’s the secret that goes into it,” Davis said. “You have to be honest with the player, the high school coach, the parents, and say, ‘This is our plan for your son.’”

“This is our plan for your son” means what? It’s a pretty loaded statement and my guess is that its meaning can fluctuate considerably given a myriad of very static factors.

To wit: “If your son is not a very good football player or has a lingering injury…or if I can recruit another high school player that I think is going be better than your son…then your son no longer has a place within our program. Don’t worry, mom and dad, we will help him leave… and if we can’t… we’ll set him up with a cushy football scholarship that well… isn’t a football scholarship.” Either in response to such an allegation or in anticipation of the same, Davis had this to say: “There was nothing that was ever clandestine or deceitful,” Davis said. “It wasn’t like we pulled the rug out from under these kids.”

THE UNUSUAL (AND QUITE CONVENIENT) ATTRITION IN CHAPEL HILL

It might be just semantics, but there’s a huge difference between pulling the rug out from under someone and politely showing them the door. Here’s a closer look at this year’s early departures from UNC Football. From Giglio:

Of the 16 who left, five players graduated and did not return to the program for their final season of eligibility. Four of the 16 — quarterback Cam Sexton, receiver Kenton Thornton, running back Richie Rich and tight end B.J. Phillips — transferred to lower-division programs to continue their football careers.

Phillips, who signed with UNC as a quarterback in ’06 before switching to tight end, said he left the program for playing time.

“No one tried to force me out,” Phillips said. “Everybody [at UNC] was really supportive of the decision.”

Phillips said the UNC coaches helped him put together tape and find a roster spot at The Citadel, a Football Championship Subdivision program.

Of the 16 that left the program over the last year prematurely, only four (4) were recruited by Butch Davis. One of those was placekicker Jay Wooten. Wooten is a lifelong Gamecock fan, and the transfer seems like the typical “if I’m not going to play I might as well be with my friends” sort of move. Wooten’s exodus seems the most likely to be completely 100% legitimate. He’s transferring from an ACC school to an SEC school so despite the age-old debate, one could argue he’s in a similar boat as Nicks who left for the NFL. However, it’s my understanding that Wooten will be a walk-on in Columbia and will have to sit out a year per NCAA rules. I imagine that Wooten’s goal is to ultimately get (back) on scholarship at USC as soon as possible. He thinks he can “do more.” So that may or may not mean that he was told he was going to be able to do “more” when he set out for Chapel Hill.

Of the 16 players who left this offseason, four were recruited by Davis, including kicker Jay Wooten. Wooten gave up his scholarship and transferred to South Carolina. He could have stayed at UNC and split the kicking duties with Casey Barth but wanted a larger role.

“The easy decision would have been to stay at North Carolina,” Wooten said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I left because I feel like I’m capable of doing more.”

Interestingly enough, while I watched the UConn game last weekend I noticed that Casey Barth might never fill the shoes of Conner as he fell about 20 yards short on a thirty-some yard field goal attempt and later missed an extra point. Wooten’s loss might prove tragic in the end if Barth fails to improve. It will be interesting to see if the kicking game plays a part in the outcome today versus the Pirates in addition to the obvious focus placed on the Heel’s offensive line.

So back to Giglio’s piece… that’s what Giglio said. As a “real” member of the media it’s not Giglio’s place to opine about what might be. So it’s understandable. However, what is the meaning behind what Giglio did not or could not say? How much of the current trend in Chapel Hill is legitimate, unforeseen circumstance beyond the staff’s control (read: natural attrition) and how much is the direct result of what they do control (read: the manipulation of NCAA regulations)? And there you have the real problem. Oversigning is really the symptom. The true problem is this new-found ability of college coaches to manipulate the numbers. In turn, they manipulate the kids. And so it is, parents, they have a plan for your son… don’t you worry. And that’s what Giglio didn’t say. Or couldn’t say. And that’s what’s so great about the development of the unaffiliated, immune from financial influence, relatively anonymous “blog”….

Matt Hinton over at Dr. Saturday chimed in with this back in February: North Carolina’s rule-breaking benchwarmers have perfect timing.

Nothing to see here. North Carolina’s problematic scholarship numbers have been widely chronicled since it became obvious last fall how far Butch Davis’ recruiting efforts were going to outpace available slots; last week, I figured UNC would have to lose six to eight scholarship players to come in under NCAA-mandated limits. And so the Heels are on their way:

North Carolina has dismissed three football players for violating team rules, a team spokesman said.

Mark House was a walk-on deep snapper; Kenny Harris was a linebacker/defensive end who redshirted last season; and Anthony Parker-Boyd was a wide receiver who also served as scout team quarterback.

There’s no word on the nature of the rules broken here, which would be helpful: Harris and Parker-Boyd were both scholarship players unlikely to see playing time this year, or ever, and their exits are very, very convenient. By the Raleigh News&Observer’s count, UNC is left with 24 or 25 openings, depending on whether a suspended player returns, just enough once the incoming, 29-man class is trimmed to the requisite twenty-five.

So a few guys who would likely never play got in a little trouble. That’s three. As previously discussed four guys who were disgruntled either for being overlooked for new recruits or for simply being lied to jumped ship to play elsewhere. That’s four more. And then there’s the guys who just up decided they didn’t want to live the high life of being a college football player anymore. They hated the attention. They hated the girls. They probably hated the late-night manifestation of both at Players after each game. They decided, willingly I’m sure, that their lives would be better served by skipping out on that extra year they gained by red shirting way back when. That’s what? Five more?

THE FOCUS GROUP OF THE FOCUS GROUP: CAREER-ENDING INJURY MEDICAL HARDSHIPS

And that brings us to the most curious group. This group is the most difficult to stomach. The idea of any athlete, either professional, amateur, or weekend warrior, suffering a career-ending injury is a dreadful thought. It’s something that no person, either opposing fan or opposing fan anonymous blogger would wish on anyone. Anyone. I for one cringe when I see any athlete go down on television. It’s sport, and nothing more. And so it goes, if any of those young men are truly injured my thoughts and prayers go out to them. But what about those who… well… might not be?

Giglio previously analyzed the UNC Scholarship conundrum here. Here he reports that three (3) players as of May 1, 2009 (when the entry was posted) had applied for and received from the NCAA medical hardships. The benefit of a medical hardship is that a kid who purportedly suffers a career-ending injury is allowed to keep his scholarship but that scholarship does not count against the mandatory NCAA limit of eighty-five (85) allotted to the team. This is an awesome gesture and when applied correctly is a great rule. College athletes give their sweat, blood, bones, knees, concussions, and on the rare occasion their lives to play a sport for a university which often cashes in big time on their efforts. And this sort of thing is necessary, because unfortunately this sort of thing happens. It’s happened this year at some of the most prominent programs in the country in Austin, Gainsville, Tuscaloosa, etc.

Since Butch Davis has been at UNC eight (8) players have been given a medical hardship scholarship effectively ending their careers but allowing them maintain their scholarships without the same counting against Davis’ overall allotment. During that same period of time only one (1) N.C. State player has received the same. That’s one in three years. This year UNC has placed three guys on medical hardship scholarships: Tackle Zack Handerson, and Guards Mike Dykes and Morgan Randall. It’s interesting to me that the Tarheel Times blurb mentions that B.J. Phillips would also request the NCAA for a medical hardship scholarship. I cannot confirm whether this is a misprint or not, but apparently Philips was denied his request and left the program prematurely via “graduation” per Giglio here. Inside Carolina also reported here that Philips, who curiously is a 2006 Bunting recruit but listed as a sophomore, would receive a medical hardship scholarship. Phillips is a journeyman of sorts who redshirted in ’06 and was later moved from QB to tightend. He suffered an unspecified hip injury. His loss is certainly convenient for Davis it would seem. Handerson redshirted in ’06 and saw no action in ’07. I cannot find where Handerson contributed significantly in 2008. Dykes redshirted in ’07 and was injured in ’08. Inside Carolina says he was well enough to hopefully compete for playing time in ’09 before being given a medical hardship scholarship. He has never contributed significantly to the program. We are unaware the extent or nature of his inury. Morgan Randall falls into a similar category.

UPDATE: While Davis was quoted as saying that two (2) of these young men were tapped to be starters in 2009, there’s zero evidence to support that. I realize that we are not privy to the inner-workings of the program and what goes on at practice and this could therefore very well be true. However, nothing whatsoever logically supports this other than the natural progression of sports where guys around the program the longest amount of time earn playing time. But this is Carolina remember? Under Davis the Heels have not exactly followed that mold. They are awfully young, remember?

Interestingly enough, there is only one other relatively new coach on Tobacco Road: David Cutcliffe. Cutcliffe was hired at Duke in 2007. Davis was hired at UNC in November of 2007. Since 2006, admittedly a period beginning a year before Cutcliffe’s arrival, Duke has used eight (8) medical hardships. That’s the same number as UNC. Similarly to Davis, Cutcliffe has made no bones about his desire to raise the level of athlete playing football at Duke. I think it’s somewhat ironic that in a period of time when perhaps the most injury-prone program in the country (N.C. State) has suffered one (1) career-ending injury requiring a medical hardship scholarship request to the ACC head office, two schools with premier medical schools have suffered eight (8) apiece (and perhaps nine (9) for UNC if you count B.J. Phillips request which may or may not have been denied who then requested a transfer to play at the Citadel.) I realize the medical schools have absolutely nothing to do with the undergraduate football programs, but it’s interesting nonetheless. More interesting, however, is that fact that both schools have new football coaches hell-bent on raising the bar at each school. (Which that, honestly, is why they get paid the big bucks.) Curiously enough both coaches were previously very successful at high-profile football schools in conferences other than the ACC. For all of its faults, the ACC does hold itself, I believe, to a higher standard of “fair play” than perhaps the Big East (Miami’s previous home) and certainly without a doubt the SEC (where Cutcliffe once paced the sidelines at both UT twice and Ole Miss).

And for us, that begs one simple question: Is this the newest way to manipulate the NCAA, and have two coaches in our backyard perfected the art of doing so????

MEDICAL HARDSHIPS AND THE NCAA

Before we get started on that, it’s important for you to know that athletic scholarships are essentially one year “contracts” renewable each year. They are NOT for the life of the student-athlete’s college career. While a scholarship cannot be rescinded due to injury, in theory a school could refuse to renew the scholarship for the following year.
Here is an interesting Q&A from the NCAA Division II on when aid can be withdrawn from a student-athlete suffering from debilitating injury or illness. It doesn’t really add much to this discussion except for the fact that if an athlete is injured the school can’t revoke an already offered scholarship for that year.

What is a medical hardship as defined by the NCAA and as applies to what we’re discussing herein?

This is a little confusing, truthfully. Trying to find information on the internet is a bit difficult primarily because 1) The NCAA in true form charges to download a copy of their bylaws and 2) people just don’t widely discuss this issue unless it’s a compliance office or website for a University athletic department. From what I’ve been able to gather, there are two types of medical hardships granted by the NCAA. One is the single season hardship where a kid gets injured prior to playing in more than two games. This is commonly called a “medical redshirt”. Pretty much every university sets out the rules and procedure governing “medical redshirts” on their websites under some variation of the terms: student, athlete, compliance, medical, hardship. I borrowed this from Va Tech’s:

For a student-athlete to receive a Medical Hardship Waiver per Bylaw 14.2.4, the following four conditions must be met:

* The student-athlete may not have participated in more than two contests or dates of competition or 20 percent of the team’s completed contests/dates of competition.
* The injury or illness must occur prior to the completion of the first half of the season.
* The injury or illness does not have to occur during practice/competition, but it must be incapacitating.
* Appropriate medical documentation must exist and be provided.

Keep in mind this is NOT what we’re talking about in this entry. Unfortunately, however, the term “medical hardship” is thrown around to also describe what we ARE talking about here. The term that best describes what we’re talking about here is perhaps the request for an “Intercollegiate Athletics Grant-in-Aid Upon Career-Ending Injury or Illness.” The words are synonymous and the process is similar if not identical to the “medical redshirt”.

The diagnosis of the career-ending injury must come from the treating physician. The trainer, coach and athletic director then assists the athlete in petitioning the conference for the continued grant-in-aid hardship waiver. As far back as 2000 the requirement that an actual physician provide an opinion of the catastrophic nature of the injury was placed before the NCAA committee. The ultimate determination was that it must be a doctor. The opinion of a chiropractor, trainer or other similarly-situation non-physician medical person would not suffice.

Bylaw 14.2.4.3.3 Medical Documentation. Contemporaneous or other appropriate medical documentation, from a physician (a medical doctor) who administered care at the time of the injury or illness, that establishes the student-athlete’s inability to compete as a result of that injury or illness shall be submitted with any hardship-waiver request.

We should reiterate in case you didn’t catch it above, there’s another interesting side note to further this grandiose conspiracy theory. Do you have any idea who administers the application process and granting or denying of medical hardship waivers? The conference offices! The decision by the conference can be appealed to the NCAA committee governing the same. The process is the same whether the athlete is seeking a medical hardship for a single season under Bylaw 14.2.4 or a the remainder of his eligibility term due to a career-ending injury. In other words, the ACC and Swofford grants these things. If an athlete is denied, he/she can then appeal to the decision to the NCAA. See below:

Bylaw 14.2.5.1 Administration of Hardship Waiver.

The hardship waiver shall be administered by the member conferences of the Association or, in the case of an independent member institution, by the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement. An institution may appeal a decision by its conference to the Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement. (Revised: 1/13/03 for any hardship waiver denied on or after 2/1/00)

There is very little discussion “out there” about the possible abuse of this type of “hardship waiver” where the issue is a career-ending injury. There have been tons of discussions, however, regarding coaches learning how to manipulate other “hardship waivers” offered by the NCAA. One such instance is the recent skyrocketing of requests to the NCAA to waive the “sit-out year” for student-athletes who want to transfer due to duress or “hardship.” There is a growing buzz and concern among coaches and media that this sort of thing is being manipulated by coaches to get players from one program to the other under the guise of hardship. One could easily opine that this could be manipulated to further various interests of both the receiving and the sending programs. Here’s a roundtable-style discussion between Scout’s basketball staff regarding the issue as it pertains strictly to college basketball. I bring this up only for the purpose of showing that where some folks (coaches) are given an inch, they’ll gladly take a mile. The following is a quote on the topic from Greg Anthony, former National Champion at UNLV and NBA First Rounder who is now a member of the CBS Sports broadcast team. Interestingly enough, Anthony transferred from University of Portland to UNLV, returning to his hometown of Las Vegas to play for Tarkanian. Many of these transfers that have drawn interest involve athletes returning “home”. )

I must admit that the increasing use of the hardship waiver has and will continue to come under fire. I don’t know all the variables that are involved in the decision making of who does or doesn’t qualify but let’s face it, some student-athletes – and universities for that matter – will at times try and take advantage of it. Remember that the hardship case also frees up a scholarship. If it’s mutually beneficial for a kid to transfer, legitimately or not, it could be the best scenario for both the player and the school. The NCAA might want to deal with the perception of this, above board or not, because how the public views this is what really matters. College athletics is a BIG TIME business, and the last thing the NCAA needs is someone questioning it’s ethics (wait a minute isn’t that done everyday anyway).

As Anthony points out, there’s growing public perception problem regarding how the NCAA sets and enforces rules. As NC State fans and alumni, we are all too familiar with what to us is far worse than just a perception problem. The NCAA has repeatedly failed to adequately enforce its rules with fairness and indifference. Please read this great discussion regarding the most recent example of the NCAA’s ridiculous inability to take appropriate action where such is warranted: SEMOST-style.

If there’s nothing underhanded going on here, then there’s at the very least a perception that it could be be going on. That, too, is a problem. It’s a problem not just for UNC and Duke and the ACC, but for all college athletics. When you combine the concern of Anthony and the following quote from Andrew Skwara, a contributor to Rivals.com, with the fact that the career-ending medical hardship waiver is determined by the conference and not the NCAA, you have, potentially, a huge mess. Skwara raises some great points.

It used to seem like every three or four years, you would hear about a player applying for a hardship waiver. This year, I can think of four off the top of my head, including two at one school: Georgetown’s Julian Vaughn, USC’s Alex Stepheson and Seton Hall’s Keon Lawrence and Herb Pope.

It makes you wonder just how legitimate some of these claims are. Tyler Smith had a good reason to leave Iowa and move back to his home state of Tennessee last year: His father was dealing with lung cancer and died soon after his son enrolled at Tennessee.

Seton Hall says Pope, who is from the Pittsburgh area, is moving closer to home because his family is dealing with problems. The Seton Hall campus is 360 miles away from Pittsburgh. I don’t see how Pope can help them from that distance.

I just hope the NCAA seriously investigates each case and doesn’t hand out hardships lightly. Otherwise, a lot of players will be encouraged to bend the rules.

With both types of hardships seemingly on the rise, it’s certainly concerning. The likelihood that a player would be familiar with the mundane intricacies of the NCAA bylaws is pretty slim. The reality of the matter is that the coaches are the ones most likely to put this sort of bug in a player’s ear. As Anthony points out above, if a certain coach needs an open scholarship and fast… either of these “hardship waivers” would be an adequate means to make that happen.

There is a fine line between good intentions and preparing to be duped. There are certainly times when all “hardship” cases are huge help for a student in serious need. Those opportunities cannot be limited much less quelled due to the abuse of the same by others. Mike Hueguinin, chimed in with this:

NCAA president Myles Brand has talked about a kinder, gentler NCAA, one in which more attention is given to the players’ needs.

In that regard, all these hardship waivers in football and basketball are good. The NCAA should relax some rules if a player needs to be close to home to deal with a tragedy. I also applaud the move to let graduated players transfer without penalty if another school offers a master’s program that the original school did not.

At the same time, though, the potential to manipulate the system is great. And ? let’s get serious ? there are coaches out there who will try to manipulate the system if they can.

I would like to see a system whereby a player first must request a waiver from the conference he is leaving. If that conference office signs off on it, the NCAA then would have to give its OK, as well.

There are conspiracy theorists out there who will say that conference offices play favorites among the league schools. I say that I don’t think any conference office would stand in the way of a legitimate transfer.


THE TARHEEL INFLUENCE

Color us “conspiracy theorists”. But that’s only natural for rival fans in a conference ruled by their arch-enemy’s off-spring. ACC Commissioner John Swofford is a Tarheel born and a Tarheel bred, and he hardly attempts to hide it. Let’s take a quick look around the rest of the country’s “power conferences”.

Mike Slide stands atop the South Eastern Conference (SEC). Slive graduated from Dartmouth College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1962. He earned a Juris Doctor from the University of Virginia Law School in 1965 and an LLM from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1966.

John Marinatto heads up the Big East. Marinatto graduated from Providence College in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. “Measured against an outstanding pool of candidates, John Marinatto was our unanimous choice to lead the BIG EAST,” said Mark Nordenberg, Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh who was a co-chair of the search process. “John has helped shape our history, and he is passionate about our future. He already enjoys the trust and respect of our Presidents and athletic directors, and is highly regarded within the conference staff. We know that he will lead the BIG EAST with both wisdom and integrity, and we all look forward to working with him.”

The Big 10 is run by a Tarheel. Jim Delaney graduated from UNC twice beginning with his undergraduate degree in 1970.

The commissioner of the Big 12 is Dan Beebe. Beebe attended Walla Walla Community College from 1975 to 1977, and then transferred on to California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly-Pomona) where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree, cum laude, in social sciences in June 1979. Beebe received his law degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law in 1982 and is a member of the Washington State Bar Association.

Larry Scott was recently named commissioner of the Pac 10. Scott was an All-American tennis player at Harvard.

The Mountain West is overseen by Craig Thompson. Thompson graduated from the University of Minnesota with an undergraduate degree in journalism. Following graduation, he spent two years as assistant sports information director at Kansas State University.

Conference USA is lead by Britton Banowsky. Born in Los Angeles, Calif., Banowsky has spent most of his professional career in the state of Texas. He is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, where he earned both a business and a law degree.

The MAC is governed by another North Carolinian (Watauga County) in Dr. Jon Steinbrecher who is a 1983 graduate of Valparaiso University, where he earned a bachelor of science degree in physical education and journalism. His doctorate is from Ohio, a MAC member school.

The Sun Belt is under the direction of Wright Waters. Waters graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Ala., in 1967. He attended Alabama and received a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Livingston University in 1974 and a master’s degree in secondary education from Livingston in 1975. (Livingston is not a Sun Belt member team.)

Karl Benson is commissioner of The WAC. Benson played baseball at both Spokane Falls Community College and Boise State University before serving as the baseball coach at Fort Steilacoom Community College in Tacoma, Wash., for eight years and as the director of athletics at Fort Steilacoom from 1979-84. Boise State is a WAC member school.

That’s all of the major AND mid-major conferences, I believe. Of the 11… only three (3) have undergraduate degrees from a member school and thus presumably any allegiance whatsoever to one sports program over another. Of the BCS conferences only two (2) have such potential for inappropriate influence (perceived or real): The ACC and the Big East. The others wittingly shied away from having to worry with such issues. Of course we here in the ACC enjoy being ruled by the most pure of any Tarheel that could be: Swofford then played football himself — quarterback and defensive back — at North Carolina, where he later served as athletic director from 1980-97.

It would be tough to find anyone from any school with a modicum of equity in his bones that would not fear such a situation could, and likely would, lead to an inappropriate and unfair application and extension of authority. On decisions highly subjective with respect to the application of obscure rules (a clear example of a highly subjective appilcation of an obscure rule is that of the request process and granting of career-ending injury medical hardship scholarships), such a fear would certainly be warranted and worthy of, at the very least, a “conspiracy theory.” (And that’s what we’re here for! If this isn’t conspiracy theorist enough for you… try this one on for size: Swoffords brother? He played football at Duke, home of the other most unfortunate or sneaky football program around.)

To the point: There’s a particular University (cough… UNC… cough) that has possibly been manipulating NCAA rules. Interestingly enough, that manipulation would have to run right through the front office of the governing conference. The head man in charge of the conference just happens to be the most devout of alumni of that particular school that you could possibly find. There’s plenty of smoke…

SO WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN???

We cannot say for sure whether any underhanded dealings have allowed UNC to remain the only team in America able to call itself “young” three years running, but there’s certainly a lot of smoke surrounding the issue. It’s extremely unusual that UNC (as well as Duke) has likely led the country in career-ending injuries. The topic of the number of these injuries has been discussed at length in other places, but by no one in a major media outlet. It’s what is not discussed that raises so many questions… and eyebrows… and why it’s definitely an elephant in the room if there’s ever been one.

If nothing else, it will be interesting to see if this trend continues. If it does, it will be extra interesting to attempt to explain why such is the case. Either UNC is tragically unfortunate, or they’re extremely sneaky. There was once a rumor that our injury issues were being used against us in recruiting. If nothing else in this entry is true, a legitimate rash of career-ending injuries in addition to last year’s starters transferring elsewhere for playing time should be some ammo for our coaches to fight that war. No thanks needed, Coach. We’re just doing our part.

UPDATE: THE ALMIGHTY EDITOR AT DAILY TARH….ERR… NEWS & OBSERVER

UPDATE: When researching this topic, I found a second version of J.P. Giglio’s original article mentioned above. To his credit, it appears that he did broach the subject of the unusual number of medical hardships at UNC. Below is the rest of the piece that was printed in the Charlotte Observer but omitted from the News & Observer. It was mentioned to me that this was likely the result of a N&O print editor cutting the story. That’s not a real shocker given the usual slant of those in control over at the N&O. Here’s what us folks in Raleigh weren’t supposed to see:

Injuries have ended the careers of eight UNC players since Davis was hired. Tackle Zack Handerson, guard Mike Dykes, guard Morgan Randall and defensive tackle Darrius Massenburg were put on medical hardship this offseason, which means UNC still pays their scholarships but they don’t count toward the NCAA limit of 85 scholarships.

Duke has used eight medical hardships since ’06; N.C. State has used only one.

The practice of designating medical hardships has been common at UNC.

Even before Davis’ arrival, the school had designated an average of three players per year since the 1999 season, according to team spokesman Kevin Best.

Of the eight players placed on medical hardship under Davis, three were projected starters, Davis said.

Davis’ own playing career was ended after only one season at Arkansas because of multiple knee injuries.

“There might not be a coach in America who is more sensitive to this because I had five knee operations in college,” Davis said. “I went through what these kids have had to go through.”

All of the early exits partially explain why Davis signed 29 players in this past recruiting class, four more than the NCAA allows to enroll.

But eight of the 29 signees never made it to campus, five because of academic-related issues, leaving the Heels six spots below the NCAA scholarship limit.

Davis hopes to have less personnel turnover next offseason but won’t make any predictions.

“I’d love to have a crystal ball and look into the future,” Davis said. “I’ve done this long enough to know, some things are going to happen.”

Chuck Amato Editor's Picks Football Recruiting NCS Football Tom O'Brien

36 Responses to INJURIES IN CHAPEL HILL – THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM NO MORE

  1. TheAliasTroll 09/19/2009 at 11:07 AM #

    Good stuff. Their basketball program and their relationship with the NCAA/ACC is also another good topic I’d like to see looked into. I’m sure that could fill a book though.

  2. 1.21 Jigawatts 09/19/2009 at 11:26 AM #

    Here are some numbers to help look at UNC’s “youth” and the rest of the acc. Several of my data tables can be found at:

    http://s580.photobucket.com/albums/ss248/1-21_Jigawatts/ACC%20Experience%20Tables/

    In 2007 UNC was young. 2009, uh no.

    UNC (2007)
    Class Size (Jr/Sr %) = 27% (12th in ACC)
    Returning Starters (%) = 41% (12th)
    Returning Lettermen (%) = 74% (5th)
    Depth Chart (Jr/Sr %) = 43% (12th)
    Average Rank = 10.25 (12th)

    UNC (2009)
    Class Size (Jr/Sr %) = 43% (1st)
    Returning Starters (%) = 68% (3rd)
    Returning Lettermen (%) = 69% (5th)
    Depth Chart (Jr/Sr %) = 65% (1st)
    Average Rank = 2.50 (1st)

    NOTE: I used year idendification from the ACC Media Guide official rosters (www.theacc.com) and Depth Chart/Returning Starters/Returning Lettermen from the ACC Media Guide and College Football News (www.cfn.com). Any mistakes are on their parts.

  3. burnbarn 09/19/2009 at 11:45 AM #

    I can follow this…. I do think Swafford is a tremendous advantage for UNC..and maybe dook as well.

    It is also interesting how that part was omitted by the N and O.

    The comparing Davis to Amato…. I was thinking the exact same thing earlier in the week. Bomani was talking about their O Line and receivers and backs…And how they really don’t have much and really aren’t going to be any better next season.

    It could take as long as 3 years to begin to have a line that will be decent and even then they would be inexperienced. And then you think that is year 7 and they still can’t score….sounds like Amato except Amato didn’t have an O-Line and QB but did have RBs and receivers.

    Finally I was talking to a UNC fan last night and he just kept raving about how great their defense is… Weren’t they like the 10th or 11th ranked D in the CONFERENCE last season… and he is saying they have the best defense in the country?

    maybe the UNC thing is gonna soon fall like the US economy has fallen in the last 2 years.

  4. howlie 09/19/2009 at 2:35 PM #

    I like pie.
    But if someone puts 28 pieces of pie on my plate… well, it’s just too much for one sitting.

    Delicious pie, this article is. But too much for one sitting.

  5. GAWolf 09/19/2009 at 2:57 PM #

    Howlie: I understand. I toyed with cutting it up. However, I just couldn’t figure out where or bring myself to do it. This entry is the result of research from several of the writers and it just grew like wildfire before I realized how long it turned out. It’s all relevant to the topic at hand, I think.

  6. Homeboy 09/19/2009 at 3:09 PM #

    Dude.

    Is this article some sort of parody or satire?

    While the quality of writing is vastly superior to anything generally wafting over from the lunatic fringe, the content and presuppositions are ludicrous, to say the least.

    It’s like a precocious 8th grader wrote this.

    Let us know when you find Tupac and Bigfoot living in a trailer behind Graceland, sharing a pool with the Loch Ness monster, while you’re at it.

    Also…it’s spelled Tar Heels.

    Wolfpack = one word

    Tar Heels = two words.

    engineering majors of the world unite!

  7. GAWolf 09/19/2009 at 3:42 PM #

    Homeboy: Let’s hope for the Tar Heels’ (thanks for the help) sake it’s a joke. If not, mayhem could ensue. I think I reasonably acknowledged the slant of the entry. We’re an N.C. State blog. And there’s plenty of smoke to justify the inferences as, at the very least, a legitimate theory. We’re just messin’ with sasquatch. Or are we?

  8. GAWolf 09/19/2009 at 4:04 PM #

    While O’Brien is no Lane Kiffin, I’m sure he has a strong opinion about our arch rival using questionable means to recruit players…even if at the very least it’s just using our unfortunate injury history against us. It’s pretty much common knowledge that that’s been going on. The rest could very well have some legs, too. It all runs together quite smoothly in fact.

  9. b 09/19/2009 at 5:55 PM #

    Probably smooth enough to recall stories of the former players/alumni, or that is the “returning summer school students”, who aid in recruting outside of NCAA guidelines. Or an overlooked extra practice with a person of some distinction, also outside of guidelines and, coincedentally, without penalty or even reprimand. I believe the word would be precedent.

    And recall most paranoia is fostered by experience, in this case decades of it.

  10. Homeboy 09/19/2009 at 7:48 PM #

    What, again, is so offensive that I’ve had more of my comments deleted?

    I don’t know what was deleted, but obvious trolls don’t get a lot of leeway around here. You’ve made at least one point (without any evidence supporting your POV); which is more than State fans are allowed to post at IC.

    Word of warning…..If you have something else intelligent to say, then you are welcome to contribute. Inflammatory remarks will not remain up.
    VaWolf82

  11. john of sparta 09/19/2009 at 9:01 PM #

    given HIPAA rules, there are Felonies available for
    reportage about medical issues about anyone over 18.
    if it’s possible to accurately document, it’s better
    if one doesn’t. don’t tempt the “John Edwards-types”.

  12. packpowerfan 09/19/2009 at 9:14 PM #

    Great write-up GAWolf. I was aware, but not fully educated on the grayshirting issue, as well as the “heartfelt goodbyes” given to some of the older and “less-talented” players. What I was NOT aware of was the use of the medical hardship like this. Butchie seems to be really playing the system, there’s no doubt about that.

  13. rdjennin 09/19/2009 at 9:45 PM #

    This has got to be the single longest posting ever. Nice Job!

  14. Homeboy 09/19/2009 at 10:14 PM #

    I don’t know what “IC” is, nor what offensive comments I’ve made that have warranted deletion, but if you’d just rather not have me comment here, then delete my account and log in and you’ll never hear from me again.

    EDIT: You’re welcome to comment on any entry here, but keep it above-the-belt. Anything snide after the “precocious eighth grader” comment was simply not warranted, and we let that slide to begin with. If you’re not interested in adding to the conversation with constructive reasons and facts why you disagree with the other opinions therein, you’re wasting your time here. It doesn’t take much research to find out who you are and what you’re about. We welcome all kinds here, including yours but only If you add meaning to the conversation. If not, spend your time elsewhere. Simply calling folks names and taking cheap shots at others is juvenile and not welcomed here. You asked to be ignored. That was done. Now you’re asking to be banned. While it’s not necessary as long as you keep your commentary respectful, that too can be worked out.

  15. Homeboy 09/19/2009 at 11:28 PM #

    Research?

    I joined the site today. I just found out what IC is and have never been a part of that site…you can look up my IP and confirm that.

    Again: I used no foul or vile language, and I went out of my way to compliment the quality of writing on this post.

    Whether or not “precocious 8th grader” was warranted or not is a matter of opinion…”precocious” is generally a compliment…”8th grader” to indicate the level of simplistic paranoia one usually finds only in middle schoolers.

    Again: my goal was stated in my second (now deleted) post: to put forth the best possible face for NCSU and the Pack fan base for all to see. It’s my opinion that such wild and paranoid Oliver Stone-like theories run counter to that. Feel free to disagree, but silencing my comments doesn’t really quell the popular notion out there that we who support the Pack are not the type to be always looking out for black helicopters.

    Perhaps a profanity laced tirade directed at the N and O or another school’s fanbase would be more welcome than my tame comments that disagree with the premise of this article.

    Either quit deleting my comments or ban me outright.

  16. cooldrip 09/20/2009 at 12:39 AM #

    If you continue to spend time here Homeboy, you’ll find this to be one of the most intelligent sports communities around. Consider the article: if the numbers given by UNC’s SID is correct, UNC has had 34! medical hardships since 1999. This is certainly evidence of abuse, in my opinion, and I would imagine in the opinions of many who have other/no allegiances. I wonder what a Maryland or BC fan would think?

    This is article is evidence of the writing and thinking at SFN. It is intelligent and logic-driven, and certainly not a homer/fan boy site. That’s what Pack Pride is for. ;) Read over some of the classic discussions from the archives, and you’ll discover there are writers and members here who have close connections to Wolfpack athletics, and most of the comments/discussion are, while passionate, objective, thoughtful, and reasoned. We don’t argue, we debate.

    And there is little patience here for opinion without a factual basis. If you disagree with an article or post, state your reasons, respectfully, and offer a reasoned counter-opinion, with facts or logic. Believe me, disagreements abound here, but the opposing arguments are nearly always well thought out, and the debate occurs at an intellectual level, rather than a sports bar level.

    Here’s hoping you stay!

  17. Homeboy 09/20/2009 at 12:47 AM #

    thanks, cooldrip…”intelligent sports community” is exactly what I was told to expect by those friends who recommended SFN to me, and I see no evidence to the contrary (especially when compared with some other websites out there).

    you know, sometimes the behavior of our brethren makes us more touchy than that of outsiders…I suppose I’m guilty of that in wanting we who support NCSU to be perceived a certain way, not considering that not all share my views.

    I may not have time to post very often, but I’ll certainly keep up on reading the articles.

  18. chilly water 09/20/2009 at 2:50 AM #

  19. chilly water 09/20/2009 at 2:51 AM #

  20. chilly water 09/20/2009 at 2:58 AM #

    or ———————http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enNE2oSTCKs

  21. PackerInRussia 09/20/2009 at 7:01 AM #

    Player X looks back over his last 3 years college football and can’t help but think that things have turned out much differently than he had once imagined. He remembers a 4-year plan that his head coach once presented to him and his family and decides to look back through it. It’s been a while and so much has happened, so the details are a little fuzzy in his mind. He opens up the manila folder with the plan inside, but his several years in college have left his mind dulled and he can’t quite remember how to read, yet he’s almost sure that something is different from what was originally written. He asks one of the more experienced coaches–one who’s been around long enough to see several head coaches come and go–if he can help him make out what is written. The coach takes the folder, shakes his head, and returns it. Instead of pages of detailed plans for a once-hopeful, young player, only one page is left with one sentence written in bold print: “All players on this team are equal…but some are more equal than others.”
    With a pat and approving nod from the head coach, Player X decides to transfer out of the program the next day.

  22. smile102 09/20/2009 at 9:13 AM #

    Please distill this for me, who are you accusing of breaking what rule?
    I see the smoke, but as a layman it appears UNC is managing the rules opportunistically to their favor which is simply smart,…. to a point. How do we judge when the point has been crossed to dishonesty? A broken rule is the clearest way, but I don’t see a specific accusation of such.

    And some of these comments are a hugh stretch: Swofford is helping Duke (UNC’s biggest rival) because his brother went there 50 years ago??? How about, he is letting Duke do it so UNC’s med. hardships are not singularly high?

    The Amato comparison: Davis is a proven HC; last year was a successful year meeting expectations; ECU was beaten w/ an O line, running game, and a true freshman receiver who wanted to attend ECU; their kicking game is awful. 3-0. And they are young, albeit by their own making.

    Interesting post w/ much hard info; thanks for the good work; enlightening.

  23. gcpack 09/20/2009 at 12:33 PM #

    At the risk of supporting Homeboy and maybe getting my comments censured I experienced the same thing last year when I commented that I disagreed with the Lee Fowler hatefest that continued at SFN.

    Next thing I know my comments were censured without any of them containing foul language or name calling. It was not necessary.

    While SFN’s extensive efforts on all subjects that should interest State sportsfans is very commendable I was quite taken aback by the censure I experienced. The only possible explanation(although I was never given a specific one by SFN) was that I dared to question the volume of negativity regarding LF’s performance.
    And for the record I do have questions regarding LF in regards to the mediocrity of the non-revenue sports. At the time my feelings were that most every article contained some arrow for LF that did not enhance the general subject of the article.

    So Homeboy, maybe you did post something offensive but we will never know will we? I do know that my comments last year were censured without cause or basis.

    Censure or censored?

  24. GAWolf 09/20/2009 at 1:35 PM #

    Homeboy’s point was made and it stands. After that it got out of hand with obviously demeaning language that did nothing to support his opinion contrary to the entry. The rest has gotten better, and we welcome legitimate criticism. If you took the time to read the entire entry it addressed the “conspiracy theory” arguent numerous times, and frequently in a self-depreciating way. Take this for what it’s worth. There’s plenty of legitimate discussion to be raised that need not be degraded by cheap shots and unfounded generalizations. Many of us have been debating whether this “smoke” has behind it any fire for some time. Beyond a smoking gun confession by Davis or a team doctor or former player, the facts and opinions herein are the about as conclusory as we’ll ever have. We recognize and acknowledge the obvious limitations of the same, and differing opinions are therefore quite reasonable given the information provided. I think we repeatedy made that clear in finding humor in the most obvious counter arguent: the conspiracy theory nature of Pack fans thinking it’s us against the world. As others have pointed out, there are countless events to support this right of passage of being a true Pack fan, that is becoming a conspiracy theorist by default, and very few facts to support the contrary. Nonetheless, if a guy wants to come here, whether a Pack or Heels fan, and point out the obvious to us that was repeatedy laid out for him in the piece itself numerous times…. so be it. Just be a grown up about it and the conflicting opinions will remain and even be welcomed. If you’re a Heel, have the gumption to admit it. We won’t run you off if you come to the table with specific reasons to support your opposition. Otherwise, don’t get so upset about it….unless you think it *might* be true, too.

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