Another day, and another chapter has been added to the summer soap opera that is the North Carolina football program.
The latest drama to come out of Chapel Hill involves a pair of former UNC players — Kentwan Balmer and Cam Thomas — and a current member of the Tar Heels who’s come to be the poster child for the NCAA’s investigation into players’ relationships with agents — Marvin Austin.
In what appears to have been a brief conversation with J.P. Giglio of the Raleigh News & Observer, Thomas, a rookie with the San Diego Chargers, admitted that Balmer paid for a trip he and Austin made to Proactive Sports Performance in California before the 2009 season. “Twan paid for [the trip],” Thomas said before declining further comment.
Proactive Sports is located two miles from Pro Tect Management, an agency founded, owned and run by Gary Wichard, the agent whose long-time relationship with current UNC assistant John Blake seems to be near the heart of the NCAA’s current investigation.
Several of Wichard’s clients have trained at Proactive Sports prior to the draft in recent years; Balmer is currently represented by Wichard.
In addition to the most current allegation made against Balmer, the San Francisco 49ers lineman has also previously been accused of allowing Austin to use his automobile and stay in his home during the offseason And, in what could either be merely a huge coincidence or yet another clue as to where this investigation is heading, Balmer was absent from 49ers’ training camp Monday and Tuesday to deal with what a source told PFT was “a family issue”.
Regardless, this is yet another chunk of bad news for the UNC football program.
As noted by the News & Observer, NCAA bylaws prohibit “preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual’s athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation.”
Balmer allegedly paying for the trips to California would be considered preferential treatment, a violation that UNC assistant athletic director Amy Herman said would be subject to “interpretative” punishment “based on the facts of the case.”
If Austin was deemed to have received illegal benefits, he could pay back the money he received and still retain eligibility, although he would still be subject to suspension if the amount was over $500.
However, when you consider the fact that Austin is also under scrutiny for a trip he took to South Beach this past Memorial Day, it’s looking more and more likely that Butch Davis will simply not be able to risk putting the talented lineman in uniform and on the field if those whole mess is not cleared up by the time the season rolls around.
And this is all without even mentioning the fact that the latest accusation happened before the start of the 2009 season, which would’ve made both Austin and Thomas ineligible. For using ineligible players, UNC could be forced to vacate their eight wins. And be subject to further punishment from the NCAA.
Is this Reggie Bush v2.0 in the making? For UNC’s sake, they’d better hope that’s just anonymous NCAA hyperbole.