This was the season that was supposed to change North Carolina football.
And that it has certainly done.
Instead of head coach Butch Davis and his team making all Tar Heels proud with a season worthy of an ACC championship and a BCS bowl berth, however, we’re seeing the polar opposite.
Without playing a game yet, the 2010 version of the Tar Heel football program has become an embarrassment to the University of North Carolina and what it stands for.
This NCAA investigation and all the accompanying collateral damage is the sort of thing that gets coaches fired. Davis may well not survive this mess.
The university is furiously trying to repair the damage as the probe into agent-related and academic issues continues. It announced Friday that it will withhold as many as 15 players from the Saturday-night season opener against LSU for violating school and/or NCAA rules.
Most of those players are on defense – including defensive end Robert Quinn, who may be the best player in the ACC -- but the list also includes the Tar Heels’ top three rushers from 2009.
What’s left? A hodgepodge of first- and second-teamers who should be as angry at their ineligible teammates as all Tar Heel fans must be. The UNC players who did nothing wrong are now being painted with the same scandalous brush. And they are the ones who will have to shoulder the criticism when things go wrong on the field, too, as they inevitably will.
It feels so sordid for a university that has long prided itself on NCAA cleanliness. The stain on North Carolina’s football program won’t be scrubbed clean all season (the only good news any Tar Heel fan really can take from any of this is that apparently the scandal won’t bleed into the men’s basketball program).
As for the fact that the Tar Heels have one of their highest-profile openers ever with this nationally-televised game Saturday at 8 against LSU?
The timing couldn’t be worse. The Tar Heels set this game up long ago. But it turns out they really needed to play Presbyterian for their opener this season, as Wake Forest did Thursday, and beat them by 40 at home without many people watching.
Instead, the ABC telecast will necessarily focus a good bit of time on the Tar Heels’ suspensions and their aftermath. North Carolina will likely take it on the chin both on the PR front and the scoreboard front.
Today is a sad day to be a Tar Heel. Tomorrow probably will be, too.
And that’s not the way the eve of a big-time opening day should feel.
Fans want to count down the hours before kickoff, not count up the number of players suspended hours before the game.
But the actions of the Tar Heel players – helped along by who knows how many adults who should have known better – have robbed fans of that privilege.
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