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NC Secretary of State Marshall Has To Decide How Far To Chase Butch Down The Rabbit Hole

June 22, 2011

Remember NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall?

Don't worry if you've forgotten about her…it's been a while since we've heard anything from her or her office regarding the UNC investigation. But recent events make me believe it's time we do again.

With the release of UNC's Notice of Allegations on Tuesday, the NCAA has put in (relatively) plain language the ills it currently knows at the Tar Heel football program.

The name conspicuously missing from the allegations is UNC head coach Butch Davis. The entirety of the allegations concern his associate head coach John Blake, a tutor named Jennifer Wiley and some former football players, but there's no mention of Davis anywhere to be found.

This comes after UNC relented last week and handed over phone records and parking ticket information they'd tried to hide for months behind FERPA. As part of that revelation process, Butch Davis turned over the records of his university-issued cell phone and, somewhat surprising, there was very little activity on it. Virtually none. The phone records of his personal phone, with a 216 area code he purchased while in Cleveland, were not released however. The FIOA request is limited to records of phones issued by the school and cannot extend to phones considered personal property.

Again, Davis escapes unscathed.

But the 216 phone records are not completely bulletproof. While a FIOA request does not include personal phone records, the NCAA and the court system can ask Butch for these records.

If the request came from the NCAA, Butch would not obligated to turn them over; however, as was shown in the NOA, the NCAA does not look favorably upon impediments to its investigation process. I don't expect that to happen, though: The NOA would've required UNC hand over Butch's 216 phone records if the NCAA deemed them important, and as strange as it seems given Butch's relationship with Blake, they don't seem to.

Enter Secretary of State Marshall. She made big headlines last year, locally and nationally, when she talked with great bravado about rooting out and punishing agents that tried to infest amateur athletics in the state of North Carolina. Her office filed documents, warrants and subpoenas to go after Marvin Austin, Gary Wichard and Pro Tec Management, whipping up a great deal of sound and fury. Since March, however, her office has been quiet on the matter despite the new developments.

Given the 216 phone records were kept private and might contain damning evidence of Butch’s involvement with Blake, Wichard and Pro Tec, Marshall and her office now have a decision to make: Do they subpoena Butch's 216 phone records in the interest of ensuring the agent issue at UNC is completely eradicated?

I find it hard to believe the yarn UNC and Butch have tried to pass off regarding Blake: that he was a rogue assistant leading a secret double life as an agent runner completely unbeknownst to Davis.

If Marshall and her office are truly committed to sending a message that any and all below-board agent activity will not be tolerated, it behooves her to subpoena those 216 phone records. Only then can she know for sure that Davis wasn't complicit in–or, at the very least, aware of–Blake's activity with Wichard.

As it stands, most outside Chapel Hill don't presume Davis is innocent just because the 919 phone records turned up nothing. They presume he's purposefully hiding any and all communication, good and bad, by exclusively using his 216 cell phone. Assuming there is no suspicious communication to hide, it would seem Butch stands to benefit by having his name cleared by the Secretary of State by way of subpoena rather than let his presumed guilt (or gross negligence) linger. 

It also stands to benefit Marshall. She talked so boastfully and so vigorously about taking a no-tolerance stand against illegal agent activity at the start of the investigation, but where has she been since the FIOA information dump–or the last half-year for that matter? The tough talk she gained used to gain headlines fizzled nearly as quickly as it appeared, and looking back it now it looks more like grandstanding for political benefit than anything altruistic (efforts that failed to gain her a seat on the US Senate).

If Marshall truly believes in the crusade against agents she began last year, she needs to thoroughly vet Butch Davis to ensure he had no role in Blake's activity whatsoever. Subpoenaing those 216 phone records–clearly Davis' ONLY method of telephonic communication–should satisfy most who still doubt Davis and put to rest his knowledge about the activities of Blake.

Will she? I doubt it. I've seen nothing before now to lead me to believe she has the stomach to hold any of the current UNC staff or administration accountable for their actions. Her bluster has been focused toward forces outside the UNC system while willfully ignoring those inside the UNC football program. If it takes two to tango, she seems only concerned with one of the dance partners.

Taking a tough stand against agents also means taking a tough stand against those on the inside who fostered agent activity and allowed it to go on. If Butch truly had no knowledge of agent activity or Blake's relationship with Wichard, a subpoena should clear that up rather quickly. Should the subpoena reveal Butch did, in fact, know more about agent activity in his program than he leads us to believe, Butch would be found guilty of lying to investigators and almost assuredly be dismissed–a victory for Marshall in the war against agent influence in NC’s college sports programs.

If she doesn’t take action, it seems all her tough talk would be for naught, making her look more like a paper tiger than the bulldog she purports to be.

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