Perhaps what matters most is that almost nobody is writing about it now.
UNC (3-1) will travel to East Carolina (1-2) for yet another big in-state matchup, and for the first time ever two African American coaches will be guiding North Carolina Division I-FBS teams against each other when the Tar Heels' Everett Withers squares off against the Pirates' Ruffin McNeill.
Jim Caldwell, now head coach of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, was the ACC’s first Black head football coach when he was at Wake Forest from 1993-2000. McNeill and Withers — who replaced Butch Davis as the Tar Heels’ interim head coach — and the second and third at the FCS level in North Carolina.
The Tar Heels, who lead the series 10-2-1, are listed as 6½-point favorites.
The sold-out, certain to be noisy contest Down East is one of three games involving the Triangle’s ACC teams that are going to have a lot to say about if and where they go bowling.
ESPN—The Tampa Bay Rays made the playoffs last night. You wouldn't have imagined that outcome for most of the season, especially not when it started. The Rays lost their first six games of the year. They finally won one on April 8, when Dan Johnson hit a three-run home run that capped a five-run, ninth-inning rally and beat the Chicago White Sox.
Still, they were nine games behind Boston in the wild card race less than a month ago.
But if you're reading this, you probably already know that Johnson's (deep breath) pinch-hit, two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning home run—off of Yankees reliever Cory Wade, a teammate of Johnson's in Durham earlier this year—saved the Rays' season. Johnson's homer capped off the Rays' comeback from a 7-0, eighth-inning deficit and allowed them, three innings later, to beat the New York Yankees, 8-7, in 12 innings just after midnight Thursday morning. The improbable win, coupled with the Boston Red Sox' also improbable loss at Baltimore—in which the Red Sox, like the Yankees, had their opponent down to their final strike—propelled the Rays into the Major League Baseball playoffs. (Check out this unbelievable graph for evidence of how improbable it was.)
Evan Longoria hit his second home run of the game with one out in the bottom of the 12th to beat the Yankees, a line-drive shot down the left-field line that just barely cleared the wall. The homer ended a wild night and wild month in Major League Baseball, in which not just the Red Sox but also the Atlanta Braves lost huge leads in their respective wild card races. The Braves lost to Philadelphia last night—they too coughed up a ninth-inning lead, just as the Yankees and Red Sox did. Meanwhile, surging St. Louis beat Houston to leapfrog Atlanta on the season's final day—the Braves had a 10 1/2-game lead on the Cardinals about a month ago.
But since this is the paper (or blog, anyway) of record for the Durham Bulls, let's talk about the Durham Bulls, shall we? Actually, let's talk about Dan Johnson.
“I hope it means a lot to the club and the franchise because I think it gives the organization something to build upon,” said RailHawks manager Martin Rennie. “Sponsors and fans like to be a part of a winning team, and we provided that.”
The Bad: Before the post-match photo opp (for which newly named team MVP and Offensive Player of the Year Etienne Barbara was noticeably absent, having stormed off the field to hit the showers the moment the final whistle blew), Carolina fell to the NSC Minnesota Stars by a final score of 2-1. The Stars’ win clinches them the sixth and final spot in the upcoming NASL playoffs and eliminates the Montreal Impact, who can now focus in earnest on their transition to MLS next season.
WALLACE WADE STADIUM/DURHAM Duke comes into its annual Homecoming game on a bit of a roll, following its 20-19 escape at Boston College a week ago.
Today’s opponent on a damp day is Tulane (2-1), which will come into the contest before a half-full stadium a 10½-point underdog.
Tulane, another one of those “Southern Ivies” similar to Duke, has a 2-0 lead in the all-time series although the last contest was in 1973.
Duke is impressive, rolling up 484 yards total offense and scoring 48 points before Tulane’s offense gets into the end zone in a 48-27 win.
With the RailHawks forecasting a near-sellout for tonight’s regular season finale against the NSC Minnesota Stars at WakeMed Soccer Park, it figures that the weather forecast is answering with precipitation.
Between these two soggy bookends to Carolina’s season, the RailHawks have clinched the NASL regular season crown, an unofficial title that nonetheless holds great import with aficionados of the sport for whom the regular season table is paramount and “the playoffs” are a foreign concept.
Nonetheless, they only pass out silverware in American D-2 soccer for playoff success, and the RailHawks’ journey starts in two weeks. Carolina’s first-place finish affords them a bye beyond next week’s quarterfinal round and into the two-leg semifinal that begin Oct. 8.
UNC’s actual 2011 football team doesn’t seem to have had its performance affected much by the past scandals surrounding the program.
But on Saturday they’ll get their first big road test, visiting conference foe Georgia Tech (3-0) in the Yellow Jackets’ ACC opener at noon.
Meanwhile Duke (1-2), which is coming off an emotional 20-19 win at Boston College in which the Eagles blew a chip-shot field goal in the final minute, will return home for its homecoming game against Tulane (2-1) at 3:30.
N.C. State (2-2) already played on Thursday night, and the Wolfpack is home licking its wounds following a 44-14 whipping at the hands of Cincinnati.
Tom O’Brien has been coaching college football for a very long time, but tonight’s N.C. State game at Cincinnati will mark the first time he has ever coached in his hometown.
“Everything’s condensed, and everything is faster,” O’Brien, whose last football experience in Cincinnati was playing for the Quantico Marines in Xavier’s last football game in 1973, said of preparing for a Thursday night contest. “You can’t spend as much time on the field. You’re still restricted by the four-hour rule by the NCAA. You can’t get any extra time than you normally would want to get.
“It’s the fine line between spending too much time on the field and expending energy and being fresh and playing on a Thursday night, but also getting enough time in that you can play well. If you’re a veteran team, it’s better rather than if you’re in our situation where you have some young guys we’re trying to get locked in in case they have to go in the game.”
Slowly but surely, the move to four 16-team “super conferences” at the top level seems to be taking shape.
With the really big-time schools trimmed neatly into four groupings, all that would be needed for a true “National Championship” would be one “plus-one” game at the end, following two huge bowl games two weeks earlier after the conferences play their title games.
How to expand to 4 x 16? Easy.
The ACC adds Connecticut and Rutgers.
The Big 10 adds Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Notre Dame.
The Pac-12 adds Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech.
And the SEC adds Cincinnati, Louisville, Texas A&M and West Virginia.
The short version of the story is that in eight of nine alleged violations, we can drop the term “alleged.” The university agrees with the NCAA’s findings of violations in every case save one, the NCAA’s charge that Carolina failed to monitor social networking sites adequately.
Carolina’s response surprised few who have followed the case closely, but the document still makes for interesting reading. UNC in several cases points to partially mitigating evidence, and points out that some of the violations are quite minor in scope. More importantly, the document repeatedly makes the case that the policies and procedures in place at the time of the violations were reasonable, though not perfect; and it stresses the extent of UNC’s cooperation with NCAA investigators throughout the long process.
That emphasis is important for a number of reasons: UNC presents itself in the document as an institution that has made a good faith effort to follow rules in the past, and that it is making good faith efforts now to correct problems that have emerged. Consequently, the document argues, the institutions should be spared crippling penalties.
The document also suggests that the violations were largely the result of individual actions, not institutional negligence. UNC did not tell Jennifer Wiley to offer unauthorized academic assistance to multiple players, Marvin Austin and others to take benefits from agents, or John Blake to receive undisclosed payments from an agent. The unstated subtext of the response is that many of the problems (Wiley is an exception) resulted from a culture of noncompliance within the football program under Butch Davis—a culture that the university can (implicitly) claim it has moved to change by changing head coaches.
Indeed, anyone who accepts the premise that the University of North Carolina was not going to permit a coach who oversaw a program that landed on probation to keep his job—and with Monday’s release and announced self-imposed penalties, UNC is now, in effect, on probation—will recognize that the university and the football program are indeed better off with Davis in the rear view mirror.
If Davis were still the coach, reaction to UNC’s response would have focused on the question of Davis’s status, and how UNC could continue to employ a coach who put the program on probation. Thorp would have been in almost indefensible position as an academic leader, and media coverage and questions at press conferences would have fixated on the scandal, not on the actual football team. With dismissing Davis mid-season essentially impossible, Carolina would have been caught in another season of uncertainty and turmoil.
To be sure, not all the questions have gone away, and Thorp has had to take a lot of heat. But UNC has succeeded in shifting the story line to a substantial degree—to the questions of who the next coach and the next AD will be, and also the question of how UNC will play in the next game. Interim head coach Everett Withers has overseen strong and at times impressive performances in the season’s first three weeks, and has demonstrated a welcome ability to keep his focus on the precious present. At 3-0, the Tar Heels are a team worth watching, and this could well turn out to be an interesting and enjoyable season—at least for those fans who are more interested in the present and future than in trying to vindicate Butch Davis.
UNC’s proposed penalties are indeed modest: loss of three scholarships for three years, two years’ probation, and vacating sixteen wins from the 2008 and 2009 season. If the NCAA does not impose additional penalties, UNC football fans should feel considerable relief. Likewise, the university administration’s strategy of total cooperation with the NCAA would be largely vindicated. Such a conclusion is premature of course, but unless the NCAA uncovers more problems or fundamentally rejects the way Carolina has portrayed the violations (as a matter of individual actions, not institutional negligence), it’s difficult to see how or why the NCAA would impose drastically harsher penalties.
That said, to me it’s quite puzzling that many Carolina fans (and others) act as if agreeing to forfeit past victories is no big deal. Take the 2008 season. Buying wholesale into the Butch Davis promise, I followed that team closely. I counted my attendance at the Tar Heels’ win over Notre Dame in Kenan as an all-time fan highlight—a close win in a packed stadium on a beautiful fall day against a legendary opponent. Later I followed the team to Charlottesville and College Park as it (vainly) pursued a Coastal Division title and witnessed two bitter losses.
And then on Sunday the ACC surprised just about everybody — at least with its swiftness and clarity of action though not with the final result — with a knockdown punch.
The media had only about 8 ½ hours official notice that the 58-year-old conference would expand to 14 teams with the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, completing the conference’s unbroken footprint of states from Florida to Massachusetts.
With all the unceasing talk about Texas A&M probably striking a killer blow to the ill-fated Big XII by bolting for the Southeastern Conference, the ACC blocked a couple of the Big Ten’s best shots for a stronger move East by adding the best available schools from the Northeast’s two biggest states.