Oct 292012

Published: October 27, 2012

UNC tried to reduce NCAA penalty

New documents show lighter rap sought for football star

By J. Andrew Curliss – acurliss@newsobserver.com

By the fall of 2010, officials at UNC-Chapel Hill and the NCAA had made startling discoveries about benefits provided to a range of football players, including defensive star Robert Quinn.

A jeweler had given Quinn $5,000 worth of diamond watches and earrings. A mysterious man only known as Willie, who had met Quinn after a spring football game, booked a room in Miami Beach for Quinn and a friend and provided them a car while they vacationed there a month later. A sports agent, through a teammate, got Quinn access to a pool party at the famed Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel. The wristband granting access was worth $199.

It eventually added up to $5,642 in what the NCAA called “impermissible benefits” provided to an athlete who, under NCAA rules, must be an amateur in order to play in college.

When investigators asked Quinn about what happened, he didn’t tell the truth, according to the NCAA. It came down hard, banning him permanently from play for taking benefits and for the “unethical” conduct. He now plays for the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

Behind the scenes, UNC-Chapel Hill had opposed that penalty. University officials wanted him to miss only six games, according to new records that were released on Friday.

UNC made the documents public as part of settling a long-running lawsuit with a coalition of media companies. UNC said it will release a larger set of NCAA investigation records next month, providing more details in a case that led to sanctions against the football program.

The new records show that Dick Baddour, then the UNC athletics director, wanted Quinn to be allowed to play again. Baddour would retire in 2011 at the same time football coach Butch Davis was fired.

Willie, mystery man

Baddour acknowledged in a Sept. 24, 2010, letter to the NCAA that the agency’s rules required a minimum suspension of almost 10 games for Quinn – at least six games for the ethical violation and a separate minimum suspension of nearly four games for the impermissible benefits.

At that time, Quinn had already missed two games.

Baddour thought the NCAA should combine the violations into a six-game suspension, he wrote to the NCAA, meaning that Quinn could be on the field in time for a nationally televised game at Miami a month later.

The letter was copied to Chancellor Holden Thorp as well as a faculty representative and other UNC and ACC officials who were closely monitoring the unfolding scandal at the time.

Baddour wrote that the jewelry given to Quinn had been returned and the other benefits he received in Florida were relatively small and Quinn would make a donation to a charity. He especially sought to limit penalties for Quinn’s lack of candor, which had led to the “unethical” conduct allegation.

It was clear by then that Quinn had been interviewed twice and had not told all he knew about Willie, a Miami man who helped facilitate Quinn’s Florida vacation.

The report says his last name isn’t known, and UNC doesn’t know where he works. Quinn had met him after the 2010 spring football game and they had exchanged phone numbers. “Nothing more is known about Willie,” Baddour wrote.

Quinn ultimately would tell his version of events in a third interview; it is not clear what Quinn had said previously, but he said the true story was so flimsy that he didn’t think investigators would believe it. So he hadn’t told the truth.

He expressed remorse, writing to the NCAA: “I apologize for not coming out and telling everything. I am truly sorry and hope you can find (forgiveness) in your heart and understand the pressure I was under.”

But the NCAA said Quinn had “multiple opportunities” to correct the record and he only did so after he was presented with information contrary to what he had already told investigators.

Baddour urged the NCAA to be lenient.

“While we certainly do not take lightly the unethical conduct charge alleged by the NCAA Enforcement Staff,” Baddour wrote, “we believe that Mr. Quinn’s provision of accurate information during his third interview (conducted solely for this purpose) warrants the minimum penalty associated with such a charge.”

The NCAA banned Quinn from play two weeks after Baddour’s appeal.

Watches and earrings

Thorp, who was unavailable for comment Friday, said at the time that the university wanted to treat its players “as fairly as possible.” He acknowledged in an interview after the NCAA issued its ban that trying to get Quinn back on the field might not have been the best approach.

The new documents include other details not previously reported, such as meetings by several players with agents and their runners, information on trips they took and parties they went to, and how Quinn was given the $5,000 worth of black diamond watches and matching earrings by A.J. Machado, a Miami jeweler, in the spring of 2010.

“Mr. Quinn indicated that he thought that (Machado) was providing it to him so that when Mr. Quinn hopefully reached the NFL, he would purchase jewelry,” Baddour wrote to the NCAA. “Mr. Quinn stated that because he didn’t promise … anything in return, he believed it was acceptable for him to retain the gift.”

Thorp and university officials had specifically fought the release of Baddour’s letter, declining requests at the time by The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer that sought its release. The university said a federal education privacy law prevented its release.

A group of media companies filed a lawsuit, leading to a decision by Superior Court Judge Howard Manning that records related to the NCAA probe are public documents.

UNC-Chapel Hill will pay $45,000 of the plaintiffs’ legal fees. A university news release on Friday said additional documents would be released on Nov. 5.

Curliss: (919) 829-4840

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