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Harsh penalties for UNC football

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Harsh penalties for UNC football

From Comcast SportsNet
North Carolina waited four months to learn whether the NCAA would be satisfied with self-imposed sanctions on the football program after an investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct. When the news came, it wasn't what school officials had hoped. The NCAA infractions committee hit the program with a one-year postseason ban, a reduction of 15 scholarships and three years of probation. In a ruling Monday, the committee said the school was responsible for multiple violations, including academic fraud and a failure to monitor its football program. It also issued a three-year show-cause penalty for former assistant coach John Blake, who had received personal loans from an NFL agent. School officials say they won't appeal, opting instead to move on. "Obviously this has been a painful and difficult experience," UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said Monday. "We don't like to have this kind of attention brought to any part of the university, especially one as visible as the athletic program." The ruling caps a nearly 2-year case that ultimately led to the firing of coach Butch Davis as well as the early departure of longtime administrator Dick Baddour as athletic director. The scandal included players receiving jewelry and other gifts from people outside the program, as well as a tutor providing improper help to players on term papers. Davis, now working as a special assistant with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has never been named for any violation. In a statement released by his attorney, Jon Sasser, the former UNC coach said he cooperated fully with the investigation. Davis said that his staff "implemented many practices into the program to try to prevent these types of issues." "The NCAA's investigation and report is comprehensive and I am certain that all parties were anxious to be made aware of their conclusions," Davis said. "It has been a difficult process for everyone and there has been a great deal of time and effort, by many people, devoted to this matter. "I am truly saddened this matter has affected so many innocent people. I wish UNC the very best." In September, North Carolina announced it would vacate all 16 wins for 2008 and 2009, reduce nine scholarships over the next three academic years and put the program on two years of probation. The school also issued a self-imposed 50,000 fine but it didn't impose a postseason ban in what the school called "difficult but necessary steps." The committee decided that wasn't enough even though chairman Britton Banowsky commended the university's investigation. The postseason ban is for this fall and prevents the Tar Heels from playing in either the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game or a bowl game. The scholarship reductions would be five per year, also starting in the fall. "I tried to be prepared for anything," Baddour said. "You're always hopeful that others will see it like you do. But I think the important thing now here is we accept it and we move on and we be as good as we can be." The probe started in June 2010 and soon became a crisis for a school that hadn't had a major violation in five decades. In what the committee called "a cautionary tale" about monitoring top professional prospects, 14 players missed at least one game in 2010 and seven were forced to sit out all that season, with four of those either dismissed from the team or ruled permanently ineligible by the NCAA. Among that group was defensive end Robert Quinn, defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little. All three players were chosen in the first two rounds of last year's NFL draft. School officials appeared before the infractions committee in October, as well as Blake and his attorneys. Blake's close friendship with late NFL agent Gary Wichard became a focus of the investigation, including 31,000 in money transferred from Wichard to Blake that Blake's attorneys have characterized as loans from one friend to another during financial trouble. Blake and his attorneys have denied Blake worked for Wichard's firm nor that there was any agreement to steer players to sign with Wichard. But the NCAA ruled that Blake had worked as an employee for Wichard after being fired as Oklahoma's coach in 1998 and "continued recruiting clients ... even after he returned to coaching in 2002," according to the report. In addition, the committee found that the financial transactions "were made to compensate (Blake) for his work for the sports agency and the access he provided to NFL-caliber student-athletes." The show-cause penalty would prevent Blake from performing any recruiting duties, which essentially prevents him from being able to coach. William H. Beaver II, one of Blake's attorneys, said they're considering whether to appeal. Beaver said attorneys provided the committee with affidavits from former players who denied Blake tried to steer them to Wichard. "We are certainly disappointed in the results and we're disappointed in the way the committee viewed what could only be characterized as circumstantial evidence provided by the NCAA staff -- and then the lack of weight given to the substantive evidence that we provided," Beaver said. Both Blake and former tutor Jennifer Wiley, who graduated from the school in 2009, were cited for unethical conduct. The committee found that Wiley had provided several players with too much assistance on research papers, and also provided about 4,100 improper benefits in travel, parking expenses and free tutoring. Wiley refused to be interviewed by investigators. The school has formally disassociated itself from her as well as former player Chris Hawkins, who had hung around the program in recent years and socialized with players until the school learned he was regarded as a prospective agent by the NCAA. Joseph B. Cheshire V, Wiley's Raleigh-based attorney, said that while the report "is not completely accurate" as to facts about Wiley's case, he was "appreciative" that the NCAA hasn't included additional sanctions against her. "It has been a hard journey for a person whose big heart caused her so much pain," Cheshire said in a statement. "I am glad for her it is finally over." Thorp fired Davis a week before training camp, citing the cumulative damage to the university's reputation by the probe. The day after the school fired Davis, Baddour announced he would step aside early from his planned retirement this summer so that his successor could hire the next football coach. The school hired Bubba Cunningham from Tulsa as AD. He then hired Larry Fedora from Southern Mississippi as the new coach. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers served as interim coach last season and guided the Tar Heels to a 7-6 record along with an appearance in the Independence Bowl. Withers is now assistant head coach under Urban Meyer at Ohio State. In a statement, ACC Commissioner John Swofford -- Baddour's predecessor at UNC -- said it's "disturbing" any time a member school has NCAA issues. "Now that the University of North Carolina has a final resolution from the NCAA, I'm confident it can learn from it, put the episode behind, and move forward," Swofford said.

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

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USA TODAY

Does Rodney Hood make sense for the Bulls?

New York Times veteran NBA writer Marc Stein tweeted late Friday that multiple teams were interested in fourth-year swingman Rodney Hood.

We know that the Jazz are one of the rumored teams interested in embattled forward Niko Mirotic and while it wouldn’t seem to make sense on the surface, Rodney Hood could be a good fit for the Bulls.

Hood will be a restricted free agent this summer and the Bulls would retain the rights to match any offer if they felt like the former Duke Blue Devil was the right piece to join the new core of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Kris Dunn.

There is one complication in a potential Mirotic for Hood deal; the salaries don’t quite match. Utah would need to send another player like Alec Burks to Chicago in the deal. The Bulls would have to be OK taking on Burks’ $11.5 million salary for the 2018-19 season and his cap hit in free agency. Good news though, the free agent class this summer is very thin at small forward, the main position the Bulls have a need for.

Another road block, the Bulls are set to max out LaVine this July, and they may be wary on tying up a good part of their cap space for the next four years on two players.

Acquiring Hood hurts the ‘tank’ but you’d have a three-month audition of a 25-year old shooter that on paper would seem to work with the current rotation. If the Bulls felt like Hood wasn’t a good fit, let him walk in free agency. They would then keep their cap space intact for the 2019 super free agent class.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks return to action against Islanders

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the New York Islanders tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Erik Gustafsson's season debut.

The Blackhawks recalled one of their top defensive prospects on Jan. 9 but haven't been able to get him some game action yet. All signs point to that changing tonight.

He skated on a pairing with Brent Seabrook during Friday's practice, and was even placed on the second power play unit during special teams drills. Joel Quenneville was excited about the possibility of finally getting Gustafsson into the lineup.

"Good option, good opportunity," Quenneville said. "We’re not for sure but certainly he’s been around, he’s eager to go. I look forward to seeing what he can do."

2. Anthony Duclair's promotion.

He hasn't been in Chicago for very long but Duclair is quickly working his way up the lineup. The newly-acquired Blackhawk registered an assist in his team debut last Friday in a 2-1 victory over Winnipeg, and was put on a power play unit as well.

On Friday, Duclair was promoted to the top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews and continued getting reps on the second power-play unit. Let's see if the 22-year-old can take advantage of that opportunity in a top-six role.

3. Mathew Barzal.

Three rookies will be named finalists for the Calder Trophy at the end of the season. Barzal is a lock to be one of them.

He not only leads all rookies with 48 points, but he ranks 15th in the entire league in the scoring race and is the only first-year player averaging at least a point per game. 

The 20-year-old center has been sensational and he already has two five-point games in his young professional career. To put that into perspective, Patrick Kane recorded his first NHL five-point effort two weeks ago against the Ottawa Senators.