UNC assistant's ties to agent at center of NCAA probe

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Less than four weeks before the start of the 2010 season, it’s uncertain whether or not All-American candidate Marvin Austin will suit up in a North Carolina uniform for a regular-season game.  After the latest investigative report from Yahoo! Sports, the uncertainty swirling around the defensive tackle is growing.

According to writers Charles Robinson and Bryan Fischer, and citing three sources close to an investigation into the Tar Heels football program, NCAA investigators have focused their attention on UNC assistant coach John Blake and his relationship with agent and long-time friend Gary Wichard.

The sources said the NCAA’s inquiry into Blake has focused on his one-time position as vice president of football operations for Pro Tect Management – an agency founded and run by Wichard since 1979. Blake is now a defensive line coach for the Tar Heels, and oversees All-ACC tackle Marvin Austin, who is also facing NCAA scrutiny.

The sources said the NCAA is investigating trips Austin took to Florida, as well as his travel and training in California in the summer of 2009, when he worked out at Proactive Sports Performance with former Tar Heel and current Wichard client Kentwan Balmer. …

A training firm for a wide array of athletes, Proactive Sports is located in Thousand Oaks, Calif., less than two miles from Pro Tect Management offices. The website for Proactive boasts 12 clients who are currently signed with Pro Tect Management, and has trained many of Wichard’s draft picks since 2005.

The tentacles of the probe that began at North Carolina has subsequently spread to South Carolina, Alabama, Pittsburgh and Georgia.  A total of nine schools — including Florida, Clemson and East Carolina — have seen NCAA investigators on their campuses since June for a variety of reasons.

 As for the UNC portion of the investigation, Wichard, as expected, has denied any impropriety between he and Blake.  In fact, Wichard hopes that the sole issue the NCAA has with Austin is his relationship with Blake.

“If the center of this controversy is my relationship with John, there’s really no controversy,” Wichard said. “If that’s what [the NCAA] is investigating, I think it’s just absurd. … I hope – I really, truly hope – that Marvin Austin’s whole case is based on me and John Blake. I hope that for Marvin Austin’s sake. At the end of the day, there’s nothing to investigate.”

Later on in the outstanding piece by Robinson and Fischer, there’s an interesting — and, on the surface, damning — exchange that takes place between the writers and Wichard.

Wichard was asked if Blake, the former Oklahoma head coach who met the agent in 1985, had ever been a Pro Tect employee.  Wichard left no gray area in his response, telling Yahoo! in no uncertain terms that “no, no, no, no… He hasn’t worked for me at all.”

When informed that Yahoo! had a Pro Tect brochure listing Blake as “Vice President/Football Operations”, Wichard likely pulled a hammy as he quickly flipped the switch to full spin mode.

“The brochure is [from] like 1997 or whatever,” Wichard said. “He was on the brochure for whatever, dealing with football-related situations. But it has nothing to do with anything. He was not working as a coach at that time. The relevance to me is ridiculous. … It doesn’t prove a thing. It’s absolutely meaningless.”

(If it was so meaningless and irrelevant, why lie when asked about it the first time?)

A couple other key points have been gleaned from the article.  First, Wichard stated that he has not spoken to the NCAA regarding the investigation.  Secondly, Wichard once again stated he has only spoken to Austin on one occasion, and that was to tell the then-junior to remain in school and not enter this past April’s NFL draft.

If the story as a whole is as Wichard has painted it, there are likely no worries on Austin’s end.  

If, which seems more realistic, it’s not?  North Carolina will have a decision to make — if the NCAA hasn’t issued any rulings or given any indications by then — before they pop the top on the 2010 season: go ahead and play Austin, knowing full well that there’s a chance he could be ruled retroactively ineligible.  Or, sit one of their best players on either side of the ball given the fact that he could be declared retroactively ineligible.

Either way, this seems to be a situation that is not going away at any point in the near future.

Report: NCAA finds 13 violations against Ole Miss football, nine under Hugh Freeze

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 25:  Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels reacts to a call during the game against the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 25, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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When word first broke of NCAA violations against Ole Miss, word from the Rebels’ football program was one of caution, for it was uncertain how many were targeted against football versus women’s basketball and track and field.

It appears we now know.

On Tuesday evening, the Associated Press reported the NCAA levied 13 allegations out of a possible 28 against the Ole Miss football team, nine of which occurred under the watch of head coach Hugh Freeze. However, it appears the most serious violations were either already know or took place during the Houston Nutt regime.

Included in the allegations are Laremy Tunsil‘s improper benefits, for which the left tackle already sat seven games. Also included are accusations former Nutt assistant David Saunders participated in a scheme to produce fraudulent test scores for recruits — the same allegations currently levied against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The remaining allegations, as detailed by the AP, include run-of-the-mill violations such as having the wrong people provide transportation on recruiting visits or assistant coaches making improper contact with recruits, many of which Ole Miss has already self-reported.

Half of all FBS signees lived between Texas and North Carolina

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 29: Johnny Jefferson #5 of the Baylor Bears carries while defended by Dominquie Green #26 and Des Lawrence #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first half of the Russell Athletic Bowl game at Orlando Citrus Bowl on December 29, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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ESPN recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton provided a massive public service through his Twitter account on Tuesday, releasing a data dump of fascinating information about the signing class of 2016.

In short, Texas was the most popular breeding ground for FBS prospects, but half of all signees came from a clean sweep from Texas, across the Gulf of Mexico to Florida and up to North Carolina.

The Lone Star State produced 359 players, with nearly half of those heading to Power 5 institutions. In fact, Hamilton reports, 72 of 128 FBS programs and 38 of 64 Power 5’s signed at least one player from Texas.

Florida trailed with 327 players, followed by California with 248 players and Georgia with 225. For what it’s worth, Ohio was not included in the study.

Data dump, begin!

AAC releases 2016 conference schedule

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The American Athletic Conference released its 2016 conference schedule highlighted by, oddly enough, non-conference games that pit league gem Houston against Oklahoma (on opening day at Houston’s NRG Stadium) and Louisville (in Houston on Nov. 19).

Those two games, more than any others, will sink or swim the conference’s chances of not only grabbing the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six, but a spot in the College Football Playoff itself.

The 2016 conference slate kicks off with Navy meeting Connecticut on Sept. 10 and concludes with the second annual AAC title game on Dec. 3 at a to-be-determined campus site.

The AAC led the way in scheduling Power 5 opponents — highlighted by a Week 3 schedule that will see the entire East Division punching up a weight class — and includes the likes of Florida State, Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia, Syracuse, Kansas, TCU and Oklahoma (for all intents and purposes) visiting AAC campuses.

View the full AAC slate here:

 

Former Notre Dame QB Tommy Rees hired as Chargers offensive assistant

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 02: Tommy Rees #11 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against the Navy Midshipmen at Notre Dame Stadium on November 2, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Just like we all thought when watching him play at Notre Dame, Tommy Rees will be in the NFL in 2016. Just not as a quarterback.

The San Diego Chargers announced his hiring as an obnoxiously vague offensive assistant, assisting with the club’s offense in some form that they aren’t inclined to elaborate on.

After completing a career in which he threw for 7,670 yards with 61 touchdowns against 37 interceptions from 2010-13, Rees was cut by the Washington Redskins in 2014, then spent the 2014-15 seasons as a graduate assistant at Northwestern.