UNC: 13 players suspended for selling school-issued shoes
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Less than a year after emerging from a long run of NCAA issues, North Carolina is dealing with rule violations again — this time for football players selling team-issued shoes.
The school announced Monday that 13 players will miss games serving suspensions for the secondary NCAA violations, which will leave the Tar Heels shorthanded during much of the season’s opening month. While secondary violations are generally considered less severe, the penalties in this case will result in several players being forced to sit out at least a third of the regular-season schedule.
In all, nine players will miss four games, two will sit two games and two others will miss one contest. The NCAA approved a school request to delay two suspensions affecting multiple players at one position, while the other 11 suspensions begin with the Sept. 1 opener at California.
The Tar Heels want to put move on quickly from this latest embarrassment.
“The guys that are suspended, they’re very remorseful,” coach Larry Fedora said during a news conference Monday. “They don’t want to let their teammates down and they feel like they did in this situation. But nobody’s pointing fingers on this football team. … We’re beyond that point now. It’s already happened. It is what it is, so they’re all looking forward and moving forward.”
The suspensions have had at least one major impact already.
With sophomore quarterback Chazz Surratt among the players suspended four games, the team’s most-watched preseason position battle has come to a swift end with Fedora saying junior Nathan Elliott will start against Cal.
The players facing four-game suspensions are: Surratt; defensive ends Malik Carney, Tomon Fox and Tyrone Hopper; offensive linemen Brian Anderson, Quiron Johnson and Jordan Tucker; receiver Beau Corrales and linebacker Malik Robinson.
Carney was the only suspended player to talk with reporters Monday, saying he has apologized to the team.
“In the moment like that, you’re not really thinking about the consequences,” Carney said when asked if he knew selling his pair of shoes was improper. “Like as a kid, when your mom tells you ‘Don’t touch the iron because it’s hot,’ you don’t really think that it’s hot. You just do it. It’s something you don’t really think about in the moment. And I made a wrong decision.”
UNC reported the violations after learning of the special-edition Nike shoes being sold to at least one retailer in an email from a member of the public in January, according to documents released after a public-records request from The Associated Press. That email contained a social media advertisement from a retailer seeking $3,500 for the shoes.
According to case documents released by the school, 15 players ultimately sold shoes either to a retailer or to a teammate, with three of those purchases for as much as $2,500. Two other players sold shoes for $200 or less.
One player — who isn’t named in the documents — purchased shoes from seven teammates for a total of $6,150.
Athletics director Bubba Cunningham said school officials completed their early investigation within four days. Players refunded transactions and Cunningham said all but about nine pairs of shoes were recovered.
One of the retailers contacted by the school said he had previously purchased shoes from athletes at Michigan, California and Marquette, according to the case documents.
“Absolutely we turned everything in back in January and February, got a final adjudication as secondary violations from the NCAA,” Cunningham said, “so this case is closed and as soon as the suspensions are served, that will be the end of it.”
With three defensive ends among the list, UNC sought — and received — approval from the NCAA to stagger some of the suspensions at the position, which can be allowed for concerns over health and safety during a game.
Carney will miss games starting Week 2 against East Carolina, UCF and Pittsburgh. He’ll return to play at Miami, then sit again at home against Virginia Tech on Oct. 13.
Fox won’t sit out until the Sept. 27 game against Miami. He’ll return against Virginia Tech, then sit again against Syracuse, Virginia and Georgia Tech on Nov. 3.
The shoe-sale penalties come less than a year after UNC had finally emerged from its multiyear academic case, which had the school facing five top-level charges that included lack of institutional control. That case reached a no-penalty conclusion in October.
And that case was an offshoot of an investigation into the football program in 2010 for improper benefits and academic misconduct. That one ended when the NCAA issued sanctions in March 2012 — months before Fedora’s first game here — that included a one-year postseason ban and scholarship reductions.