Another closet, another skeleton for North Carolina: According to the Raleigh New & Observer, UNC has acknowledged that its all-time receiving leader, current New York Giant Hakeem Nicks, was ineligible throughout his junior season in 2008 due to academic fraud.
Regular readers will be familiar by now with Jennifer Wiley, the former UNC student who has been repeatedly cited by the university and the NCAA for assisting players above and beyond in her role as an athletic department tutor. One of those players, per a university spokesman, was Nicks, previously identified as "Student-Athlete 1" in the official infractions report handed down by the NCAA earlier this year:
"The investigation confirmed that the former tutor had committed academic fraud with an on behalf of student-athletes 1, 2 and 3 during the 2008-09 academic year and the summer of 2009. Regarding student-athlete 1, a review of email communications revealed that on April 21, 2008, the former tutor wrote conclusion paragraphs for five of student-athlete 1's writing assignments in an education course,” the NCAA infractions report says. "By the time the violations were discovered, student-athlete 1 was no longer enrolled at the institution, so no further action was taken."
That season, Nicks set school records for receiving yards in a season (1,222) and a career (2,840), gave up his senior season for the NFL Draft, went to the Giants with the 29th overall pick and never looked back. His agent told the New & Observer that, four years after the fact, his client's eligibility is "low on the totem pole of relevant issues," which is hard to dispute from Nicks' perspective or North Carolina's.
Last summer, an official Notice of Allegations named Nicks as just one of five former players – along with three agents, a jeweler, "various financial advisers" and a guy named Willie [last name unknown] – who combine to funnel more than $27,000 in cash and other "impermissible assistance" to former teammates with eligibility remaining in 2009-10. Nicks' reported share of that total was $3,189.20 on behalf of unidentified recipients, a relative footnote in a scandal that ultimately resulted in the suspension of 14 players for at least one game; the permanent suspension or dismissal of four players;, three of them future draft picks; the vacation of 16 wins over two years; the imposition of scholarship losses and a one-year bowl ban by the NCAA; the termination of head coach Butch Davis; and the effective end of assistant John Blake's career as the result of a "show cause" penalty.
By contrast, the fallout from Nicks' ineligibility is purely cosmetic: Asterisks will be added next to his name in the record book. Under normal circumstances, the Tar Heels might be forced to vacate the eight wins Nicks participated in while ineligible, but the 2008 season has already been vacated. At this point, who's going to notice another scowling face on the totem pole?