The widely recognized possibility that multiple members of the UNC football team will red-shirt this year after being suspended for academic violations is a fair one, despite the ruffled feathers it has caused among opposing ACC fan bases.
Writers, bloggers and pundits alike have griped that the likelihood of running back Ryan Houston and corner back Charles Brown red-shirting this season while remaining eligible for the 2011 season is unethical, and sends the wrong message from a university that prides itself on honor and integrity above athletics.
Lumping Houston and Brown together in the same category shows a misunderstanding of the situation at hand, though the fact that both are primed for a red-shirt this fall is fair in both of their cases.
Ryan Houston, led the Tar Heels’ last season in both rushing yards and touchdowns, and was looking towards his senior season as an opportunity to increase his NFL draft stock.
Then all hell broke loose.
After being implicated in “tutor-gate,” Houston was held out of UNC’s first five games of the season before ultimately being cleared of any wrongdoing. Thanks to the unexpectedly stellar play of utility-man Johnny White at running back, Coach Butch Davis has publicly expressed his desire to have Houston red-shirt this fall and return in 2011 for his final year.
Anyone who thinks it is unjust for Houston to have another year of eligibility has a severe case of ABC (Anyone But Carolina), and is not considering all the facts regarding Houston’s involvement in the academic scandal. Houston unnecessarily missed five games this season, so claiming that his career at UNC should be over is entirely inane.
Cornerback Charles Brown’s case, on the other hand, falls into more of a gray area.
Brown, unlike Houston, was implicated in the academic scandal and plead guilty to receiving improper help on a number of assignments. His suspension from both the football field and the classroom were just, and in line with the University’s Honor Code.
Also in line with acceptable practices, allowing Brown to red-shirt so that he may return to action in 2011.
From the beginning of this investigation, it has been apparent that UNC has taken the high road in trying to get itself out of this investigation: Numerous players were held out despite their eventual innocence, assistant coach John Blake left the team as he became implicated more grimly in the agent prong of the investigation and academia-minded Chancellor Holden Thorp has begrudgingly been in the limelight of the athletic department.
Additionally, WR Greg Little, DT Marvin Austin and DE Robert Quinn have all been kicked off of the team for accepting improper benefits from agents. The punishments for these three players, regarded as three of the Tar Heels’ best at their positions, were justified in their cases.
Brown’s chance of red-shirting is also justified.
As with all students at UNC, Brown will have to sit out the fall academic semester. Unlike most UNC students, he will also miss the entire football season, delaying his first NFL paycheck by a year.
Not allowing Brown to return to the team next fall would be like not allowing a business major to return to that department after an Honor Code violation, despite the fact he has completed three years of requirements and has an outstanding chance of being accepted into business school.
Kicking Brown off of the team would have been over-reaching, Draconian and certainly would not have the best interest of the student-athlete in mind.
For Brown and Houston to have suffered the same penalty as Little, Austin and Quinn would have been unfair: Unfair to the university, unfair to fans who want consistency in NCAA rulings and most important, unfair to the student-athletes themselves.
UNC has seen to it that fitting punishments are handed down to those who have committed violations. In the cases of Charles Brown and Ryan Houston, the punishments have overwhelmingly fit their improprieties.