Vols will get crack at UNC after all
Posted: Monday, December 6, 2010 6:03 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
A North Carolina team whose season was overshadowed by an NCAA investigation will meet a Tennessee squad in the midst of a rebuilding effort under a new coach in the Music City Bowl in Nashville on Dec. 30 at LP Field.
It’s also a game between two teams that were scheduled to meet at North Carolina during the 2011 season and at Tennessee in 2012, until Volunteers officials decided to pay a $750,000 buyout of the series contract with the Tar Heels — a decision that drew complaints from Vols fans.
Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton has said he was looking to make the Vols 2011 schedule a bit easier in light of the team’s rebuilding efforts, and North Carolina officials declined his initial request to delay the series.
“When we talked about potential matchups, we actually let (Music City Bowl) know that Carolina would be our first choice to play,” Hamilton said. “We knew our fans wanted to play North Carolina.”
North Carolina (7-5) finished third in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division amid an ongoing NCAA investigation which initially focused on agent-related benefits for players but was later expanded to include possible academic misconduct involving a tutor.
Drawing scrutiny by the NCAA was assistant coach John Blake’s longtime friendship with California-based agent Gary Wichard. Attorneys for both men say Wichard loaned Blake money several times over the years but denied there was an arrangement for Blake to steer players to Wichard when they reached the NFL.
Blake resigned the day after the season opener, while the NFL Players Association has suspended Wichard for nine months. Both men have been interviewed by the North Carolina Secretary of State as it reviews whether state sports agent laws were broken.
The Tar Heels have had 14 players miss at least one game and seven who missed the entire season. Three of those players were declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA, a fourth was declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA after he had played the first four games. One of the 14 who missed a game was cleared to return after five games but opted to redshirt instead.
“I congratulate our team, and especially the 17 seniors, for the extraordinary job they’ve done in leading our program to a third consecutive bowl appearance,” North Carolina coach Butch Davis said. “Regardless of the situation, this team fought week after week to make our fans proud. We look forward to representing North Carolina against a talented Tennessee team.”
North Carolina will be making their third consecutive bowl appearance and first in the Music City Bowl and will play their 32nd game against the Vols. Tennessee leads the series 20-10-1, but the two teams from neighboring states haven’t faced each other since 1961.
“Our fans have been tremendous this year ... This bowl game is another fantastic opportunity to support this Tar Heel team and recognize the accomplishments of an outstanding senior class,” North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour said.
Tennessee (6-6) finished third in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division in the Vols’ first season under coach Derek Dooley, their third coach in as many seasons. This will be their 49th bowl appearance, which ties for third in the NCAA, and first in the Music City Bowl.
“I have a lot of respect for North Carolina, and I always have,” Dooley said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for our team to play somebody else from another conference, play another program and hopefully keep the momentum going.”
The Vols have played in three stadiums in the state of Tennessee already — Neyland Stadium, Memphis’ Liberty Bowl and Vanderbilt Stadium — and the stands have been full of Vols fans in each game.
“I know it’s a neutral site, but we can all assume (LP Field) will be filled with a lot of orange,” Hamilton said.