Commentary

Butch Davis' defense rings hollow

Updated: October 14, 2010, 10:45 AM ET
By Bomani Jones | Special to ESPN.com

On Monday, North Carolina football coach Butch Davis and athletic director Dick Baddour tried as best they could to sell the presence of institutional control, all while protecting themselves by saying they didn't know they needed to prepare for problems, let alone that they had them.

[+] EnlargeButch Davis
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesCould a coach with Butch Davis' experience truly be clueless about agents?

It gets no more farcical than Baddour and Davis -- the man that cleaned up Miami and the third football coach hired during Baddour's 13-year tenure -- doing that dance. Two guys that have been involved in college athletics since the days of rotary phones never realized players could be tempted by agents until Marvin Austin showed them on Twitter?

The illegal practice isn't new, as former agent Josh Luchs and players he paid in the 1990s confirmed to Sports Illustrated this week. (And whom did Luchs work for at one point? Gary Wichard, who had ties to former UNC associate head coach John Blake.)

Think about it: Butch Davis was willing to disregard the reason his name carries weight, the only thing on his head-coaching résumé other than a few Big East championships and a solitary top-10 finish in the polls, to cover his and his boss' behind. This wasn't just Davis saying he didn't know what was going on. He was saying he didn't know how to do the job he makes millions doing.

And that was his defense.

This is what the NCAA has created: Feigned idiocy, ignorance even, is not just the best ticket to keeping your gig but also to keeping the whole flawed system afloat.

While announcing that Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn -- none of whom should last beyond the third round of the 2011 NFL draft -- would not return to the field for the Tar Heels, Baddour and Davis clung to their shared cluelessness and newfound enlightenment. That enlightenment prompted UNC to overhaul its oversight of players, which will now include a sign-out sheet for players who go out of town to make sure they're not in untoward places. High school teachers, who can't even get kids to come straight back to class with their hall passes, just laughed in unison.

The solution, at least in Chapel Hill, is to create a system that makes it more efficient to be lied to so, if the NCAA calls again, coaches can say they tried their best.

What comedy, even if it was predictable from two men with their careers hanging in the balance. But it was even more comical considering what UNC's known for -- producing more NBA first-rounders than any other school -- why it hired Davis, and why anyone but football diehards know his name.

Davis was the sheriff of Miami's football program from 1995-2000. With a no-nonsense attitude and low-risk recruiting strategy, he brought The U back from the wreckage of a Pell Grant scandal, forced questionable influences like rapper/booster Luther Campbell away from the program and put the team back on the map without all the negative connotations it carried for a decade. And we're supposed to believe he did it all by accident?

[+] EnlargeDick Baddour
AP Photo/The News & Observer/Ted RichardsonDick Baddour did his best to protect the North Carolina brand this week.

It's unlikely that's true. If Davis knew what to do in his first head-coaching gig, one with an open locker room and located in a city that attracts shady characters looking for easy money, then he knew how to run a clean program in Chapel Hill. Just as he knew, being far removed from South Florida's fertile recruiting, he needed a right-hand man like Blake who could get results (such as Austin, a top-10 recruit).

"I didn't know," with a side of "I learned my lesson," was the best he could work with. Though he works in a bottom-line industry, Davis has faith that ignorance and incompetence play better with the public than honesty. A coach has no excuses for player mistakes and losses, but pending NCAA sanctions should be dressed in the prettiest packing possible.

It almost makes you credit Jim Calhoun, who said he made "reasonable efforts" to avoid the activities that got his school in trouble. Sure, Connecticut's mistakes were everyone's fault but his own, but at least any insult he delivered to our intelligence wasn't a disingenuous affront to his own.

As easy as it is to slam Davis, Baddour and the people they work for, thought, it's counterproductive. Their only other option would be resignation. They sold the safest story one could tell, the one that gives the most protection to the previously pristine brand -- "The Carolina Way" -- they represent. They've put as much as they could on Blake -- Davis' now-deposed recruiting coordinator and suspected employee of Wichard -- and will hope that UNC's first major violation in nearly a half-century won't be so bad.

It's not their fault they can't tell the truth, that they're fighting an impossible battle. There's no need to dress it up in fancy economic terms about market wages. Bottom line: There is no system out there to compel people to turn down free stuff. And if that system is invented, it will come well in advance of one that gives college students good judgment.

[+] EnlargeMarvin Austin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMarvin Austin, one of the best defensive players in the country, is no longer on the North Carolina football team.

There is no seminar that will quiet the hungry players' stomachs or make diamonds stop twinkling in the eyes of greedy ones. If the school can only feed them on weekdays, then even the worst student in Rocks for Jocks knows a gratis trip with strangers is a no-no. There is no college campus so wonderful that it will stop students from wanting to party in Miami on weekends, especially when their meal plans don't work on weekends and the strongest punishment available is a few weekends off in the fall.

As long as college sports make millions, unpaid athletes will listen. As long as pro sports make billions, agents will make enough to take a flier on prospective clients. There will be guys around campuses betting a few C-notes on 3 percent of forever.

Unlike horses, college athletes don't love to run for free.

That is a truth so inescapable that Butch Davis besmirched his greatest work to avoid speaking it in public, and many other coaches will soon proclaim similar ignorance.

He came to Chapel Hill known for turning around a program. That's what he was asked to do, but not like this.

Remember, he doesn't know what he's doing, nor will anyone else in his situation.

Bomani Jones contributes to the Page 2 blog and hosts "The Morning Jones" from 7 to 10 a.m. on Sirius 98, The Score Satellite Radio.

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Bomani Jones is a contributor to ESPN.com.