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Hairston Case Delay in UNC’s Hands, Not NCAA’s

In a release today, the NCAA announced that it has reinstated North Carolina men’s basketball student-athlete Leslie McDonald. McDonald was suspended for nine games, a standard 30% of the season and ordered to pay restitution to charity in the amount of $1,783. But the final sentence of the release is the most fascinating:

At this time, McDonald’s reinstatement request is the only one the NCAA has received from North Carolina.

That answers the question asked by many of when the NCAA will stop dragging its feet and rule on PJ Hairston’s eligibility. It cannot do that until it receives a reinstatement request from North Carolina for Hairston.

There are a number of possible explanations for why UNC has not sent Hairston’s case to the NCAA. The institution may still be investigating the alleged violations and does not have the full set of facts yet. Perhaps UNC has completed their investigation but determined Hairston will have a longer minimum suspension, and have not submitted the case in the hope that exculpatory information will arise. Hairston’s violations of team and university rules might be getting mixed up with possible NCAA violations to create a longer suspension. Or North Carolina might not believe that Hairston will be reinstated by the NCAA.

If Hairston’s case is never sent to the NCAA and he never plays for the Tarheels again, it would not be the first time in recent history that happened. In 2010, UNC announced that football student-athlete Marvin Austin was dismissed from the football program for NCAA extra-benefit and agent violations:

“North Carolina based its decision on recent information gathered as part of the joint investigation with the NCAA. Austin’s case was not submitted to the NCAA for reinstatement.

At the time, UNC estimated that Austin has received between $10,000 and $13,000 in extra benefits and committed ethical conduction violations. Considering that teammates Greg Little and Robert Quinn combined to receive just over $10,000 in extra benefits, were found guilty of ethical conduct violations, and not reinstated by the NCAA after UNC sent their cases, the decision to not even try with Austin seems reasonable.

As of now, there is no estimate of what the extra benefits received by Hairston might finally reach. Those benefits center around his use of rental cars allegedly loaned to him by a third party. Hairston’s use of the rental cars may be extensive given the time frame of parking tickets, speeding tickets and Hairston’s arrest on misdemeanor drug charges all tied to the two rental cars.

But what if Hairston, or more specifically Hairston’s legal counsel, disagrees in any way with North Carolina? What if Hairston’s camp believes there is enough information to send the case over and/or that Hairston will be reinstated by the NCAA, perhaps with a suspension amounting to “time served”? In that case, Hairston is stuck, since the NCAA will only review his case if an institution submits it on his behalf. If UNC decides it will never send his case for reinstatement, Hairston’s only chance to play Division I basketball would be to transfer to another school willing to take up his case.

There needs to be a way for student-athletes to fight for their own eligibility with the NCAA. Whether it is Hairston’s only option or he and his counsel decide to move on more quickly, he should have that opportunity. Providing him with an NCAA public defender would not hurt public perception of the NCAA either. Hairston and other student-athletes might feel more in control of their own destiny and the NCAA would be spared the criticism, rightly or wrongly, for leaving these athletes twisting in the wind.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!