NCAA clears North Carolina’s Sturdivant, Carter to play; Williams remains sidelined

By Aaron Beard, AP
Friday, September 3, 2010

NCAA clears UNC’s Sturdivant, Carter to play

North Carolina linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter have been cleared to play in the 18th-ranked Tar Heels’ opener against No. 21 LSU on Saturday.

Safety Deunta Williams (dee-AHN’-tay) will not play due to the ongoing NCAA investigation into the program.

The three players didn’t travel with the team when it left Chapel Hill for Atlanta on Friday morning as the school conferred with the NCAA on their status. While Sturdivant and Carter will play, the university said in a statement Friday night the NCAA needed more information before ruling on Williams.

The news means the Tar Heels will be without 13 players, including at least six starters from a defense that ranked among the nation’s best last season.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Investigators from the North Carolina Secretary of State’s office have subpoenaed Tar Heels defensive tackle Marvin Austin, a person familiar with the situation said Friday.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Austin is one of 15 players who did not travel with the team to Atlanta for Saturday’s opener against No. 21 LSU because of an NCAA probe.

Secretary of State Elaine Marshall’s office is reviewing whether North Carolina’s sports agents laws have been broken in the wake of the NCAA investigation into the school’s football program.

The NCAA probe initially focused on whether Austin and receiver Greg Little got improper benefits from agents and has now expanded to possible academic violations.

George Jeter, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office, declined to comment on the subpoena.

“All I can say is it’s an active, ongoing inquiry at this time,” he said.

Earlier Friday, the school said it had declared Austin, defensive ends Robert Quinn and Michael McAdoo, cornerbacks Kendric Burney and cornerback Charles Brown, and receiver Greg Little ineligible “for violating school and/or NCAA rules.”

Another six players — top tailbacks Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston; safeties Brian Gupton, Da’Norris Searcy and Jonathan Smith; and defensive end Linwan Euwell — are being held out of the game during the investigation.

The school also said three other players were still in jeopardy of missing the game against the Tigers and wouldn’t travel with the team when it left Chapel Hill, though officials were working with the NCAA to determine their status for the game.

School spokesman Kevin Best said that linebackers Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter, and safety Deunta Williams — all starters — weren’t on the team plane as the Tar Heels left Friday morning. He wouldn’t say whether they were the three players whose status is in doubt.

“We are disappointed the players’ choices have denied them the opportunity to compete alongside their teammates and represent the University of North Carolina,” coach Butch Davis said in a statement. “Our coaches and players have a tremendous challenge this weekend, and despite these circumstances, our team will be excited to face LSU.”

It’s unclear how many games Quinn, McAdoo, Burney, Brown, Little and Austin will miss. The announcement is a massive blow for a program that entered Davis’ fourth season in position to contend for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

The optimism had been building since January, when Austin, Little, Burney, Sturdivant, Carter and Williams all announced they would return to school for their senior seasons instead of entering the NFL draft.

Little is the team’s top receiver, while the rest of that group joined Quinn — a junior widely considered to be a high first-round pick — on a defense that returned nine starters from a unit that ranked among the nation’s best last season.

Davis had suspended Austin indefinitely for violating team rules Wednesday.

“We are still working with the NCAA staff to resolve these eligibility issues,” athletic director Dick Baddour said in a statement. “The NCAA is focusing on each of their situations on a case-by-case basis. Together we are working to determine their status in as thorough and fair a process as is possible.”

There have been similar agent-related NCAA investigations at Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, with links to a South Beach party attended by players from several schools earlier this year. The Gamecocks have suspended tight end Weslye Saunders for violating unrelated team rules while Crimson Tide defensive end Marcell Dareus has been declared ineligible for two games for accepting nearly $2,000 in improper benefits during two Miami trips.

North Carolina is one of 42 states and the federal government that has laws governing contact between sports agents and amateur college athletes. The state requires agents to register and prohibits them from offering gifts before a contract is signed. Violations can lead to criminal or civil penalties.

In July, Marshall’s office sent a letter to the more than 100 agents registered with the state notifying them of the investigation and instructing them not to destroy records. She said then that her office can’t punish athletes, but planned to talk to them about their conduct and interaction with agents.

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