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.

Florida AD Jeremy Foley suggests no long-term revival of Gators-Hurricanes

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 07: Quinton Dunbar #1 of the Florida Gators is tackled by Stacy Coley #3 of the Miami Hurricanes during a game  at Sun Life Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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The Florida Gators play Florida State every year, and that appears to be the only school from the ACC Florida will continue to play annually. Sorry, Miami.

Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley was a guest on WRUF in Gainesville, where he was on to discuss a number of various Florida sports topics. Among them, of course, was a question about the future of the Florida-Miami series, if you can even call it a series these days. Foley did not leave much room for the possibility of a long-term series with the Hurricanes.

“No, I do not see them on our schedule on a regular basis,” Foley said. “I think when you’re asking your football team to play eight games in this league and Florida State? That’s a tough slate. This league is obviously as good as it gets, and Florida State is as good as it gets.”

SEC schools are locked to an eight-game conference schedule and must schedule one opponent from another power conference each year. The ACC has a similar rule, and Florida and Florida State each meet their respective conferences’ scheduling rules with their annual series at the end of the regular season. Miami has no such power conference rival to work with, so the Hurricanes are forced to look elsewhere to satisfy their scheduling requirements.

Florida and Miami are scheduled to open the 2019 season against each other in Orlando, but that is the only game in the foreseeable future for a pair of power conference programs that once played on an annual basis until 1987. Since 1987, Florida and Miami have played just six games, including a pair of postseason bowl games.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.

Michigan’s epic summer of satellite camps is here

Jim Harbaugh
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Here’s hoping Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff are getting plenty of rest and relaxation this Memorial Day weekend, because the next month is going to be very busy for them. With the start of June just days away, Michigan’s month-long tour of satellite camps is about to begin with 38 stops over 21 states and two countries.

And yes, this is going to cost Michigan a few pennies, but it will be a small price to pay in the long run if it means Michigan will build the kind of dominant program they expected when they hired Harbaugh for the kind of money they did. Michigan already spent $350,000 for the spring break spring football trip to IMG Academy, and now that the trip to Australia is back on for Michigan, the cost will continue to soar. The Detroit Free Press mapped it all out and suggested the satellite camp tour will cover roughly 50,000 miles between stops in the United States, Australia and American Samoa. Of course, not even Harbaugh is making every stop on that tour. For example, he will not be heading to Australia, while a pair of assistants will.

Harbaugh and company will be spanning the nation to work at camps in Connecticut, New Jersey, Alabama, Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, Mississippi and many more. Among the programs Michigan coaches will work alongside include Georgia, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Baylor is also hosting one of the camps Michigan will be represented. In March, now former Baylor head coach Art Briles was the guest keynote speaker at a coaching clinic hosted by Harbaugh and his brother, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.

One thing we do suspect is this. Wherever Harbaugh goes will generate buzz and draw interest. It could be a very fun month.

Mike Riley bringing rape victim at Oregon State to speak to Huskers

Mike Riley
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Nebraska head coach Mike Riley is taking an interesting approach to addressing the impact of sexual abuse to his football players in Lincoln. Riley will bring in a former victim of a gang rape incident at Oregon State, which occurred under Riley’s time at the Pac-12 program. Brenda Tracy

Brenda Tracy was allegedly raped in October 1999 during her freshman year at Oregon State by four men, two of which were football players at Oregon State. The charges were later dropped and the two Oregon State players served one-game suspensions by Riley.

Doing the right thing is the key,” Riley said on Thursday, according to Sports Illustrated. “What I’ve learned is that some things that are not negotiable about the opportunity to be on a team. One of those is certain kinds of assault, and one of them is anything to do with guns.”

Considering no charges were ever pursued and the players each served a simple one-game suspension, it stands to reason Tracy would have some animosity toward Riley, who she also blames to an extent. Riley previously invited her to speak to his team while at Oregon State and is now coming through on his promise to allow Tracy to share her story with his new football program at Nebraska.

I despised that man,” Tracy told The Oregonian, speaking of Riley. “I hated him with every cell in my body. This is a coach who victimized me, and now I’m going to stand in front of his football team and tell them how I felt.”

It should be a very powerful message, and it sounds like one that every college football program should consider hearing if possible. In the wake of recent findings at Baylor and a disturbingly growing list of sexual assault cases involving college football players, why not hear how a victim’s life can be impacted by the poor decisions of young men?

“I think kids have to always understand it’s about choices,” Riley said. “The other basic thing to understand is how you treat people. It’s one more piece. I really appreciate Brenda reaching out, stepping out to do this. I think it will be a real-life thing. I think that’s what players need to know about. There’s people’s lives involved here and how it affects them.”

Last November saw a trio of Nebraska players (Tommy Armstrong, Trey Foster and Jordan Westerkamp) connected to an alleged rape incident, but no charges were filed following an investigation by officials due to a lack of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Four-star OL JP Urquidez says he will not enroll at Baylor

during the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium on January 1, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.
Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
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Continuing an unfortunate trend for the Baylor football program over the course of the last week, Class of 2016 offensive lineman JP Urquidez announced he will not be enrolling at Baylor tomorrow morning as originally planned. Urquidez made the announcement via Twitter.

Rivals rated Urquidez as a four-star prospect out of Copperas Cove, Texas. The recruiting service ranked him the ninth-best offensive tackle in the country in the Class of 2016 and the 24th top player overall from the state of Texas. Urquidez sent a message of support to the recently indefinitely suspended (with the intent to terminate) Art Briles once the news became official.

Urquidez joins fellow Class of 2016 recruits of Baylor Patrick Hudson (another four-star offensive lineman) and four-star running back Kameron Martin in deciding not to enroll in the first summer session at Baylor. Others could soon join them as reports suggest four-star wide receiver Devin Duvernay already wants to move on to another program as well.

Baylor’s Class of 2016 ranked 17th in the nation according to Rivals, but in the wake of this latest scandal news the Bears are already seeing key ingredients of that class looking elsewhere at the final hour.There is not a whole lot that can be done by Baylor other than allowing those players a release from their

National Letter of Intent and offering them best wishes on their way out.