Sunday, December 22, 2013

Parting of the Hairston

The coverup is worse than the crime.

That's the takeaway from the messy, pointless conclusion to the P.J. Hairston mess at  UNC. Hairston, the team's leading scorer last year, was suspended for "impermissible benefits" before the season. He was caught driving a rental car (and good luck getting one of those if you're under 25 and not a star athlete) provided by known criminal "Fats" Thomas, then ran into trouble in a couple more borrowed cars over the next few months.

(Side note: On a certain level, it's weirdly old-school for the crook in this piece to be nicknamed "Fats". It's like we just took a sharp left turn into a '30s gangster movie. But I digress.)


As far as violations go, this one didn't sound too bad. Yes, Hairston had been given use of a luxury vehicle or two that he wasn't supposed to, but hey, at least they didn't just give him the luxury vehicle. And when you compared these shenanigans to the others that have bespangling UNC's escutcheon, from coaches feeding players to agents to made-up courses designed to keep athletes eligible to a tutor doing athletes' coursework to paid travel to something involving $13000 in parking tickets, it didn't seem as bad. I mean, come on. Misdemeanor weed? Rental cars?

The smart money said Hairston would be gone maybe 5-10 games. He'd be back by the time the calendar rolled over, just in time for ACC conference play, and thus reloaded, the Tar Heels would make some serious noise. It all seemed reasonable.

Until yesterday, when it was announced that UNC would not be filing the necessary paperwork to get Hairston reinstated. This was a complete shock to all concerned; certainly the Hairston family was surprised. And with good reason - Hairston's college basketball career is now over. Kaput. The end. And seemingly out of the blue.

Normally, the rumor mill around the Triangle leaks like a sieve. That's what happens when you have three schools in close proximity whose fan bases hate each others' guts (even if "house divided" stickers do a booming business around here. Listen to local sports talk radio and it's all "why did they get this call when we didn't?" and "why did they get away with a slap on the wrist from the NCAA when back in 1986, we didn't?", on and on to make sure that the other guys - Duke and UNC or UNC and NC State or State and Duke - aren't getting away with anything. Which means that as soon as there's a whiff of scandal at one of those three, the fan base from the other two immediately jumps in to try to dig up more dirt.
But not this time. There wasn't a whiff of anything until Friday night, when the surprise announcement hit. And according to local ACC guru David Glenn, the reason was simple: there was more. Officially, there were "inconsistencies" uncovered in Hairston's testimony. 

According to Glenn's sources, that meant there was more. More rental cars. More connections with Thomas. More...something, all hidden by Hairston in an original effort to avoid a lengthier punishment. And if the school applied to get Hairston reinstated, all that "more" would come to light.

Which made it an easy decision for UNC, I suppose. Still reeling from a multi-year multi-disciplinary scandal, they weren't going to invite another one. Having Hairston on the floor wasn't as important as having NCAA investigators not on campus.

What happens next is fairly predictable. Hairston's family will threaten legal action, but really, there's no time and no point. The season will be over before anything could come to trial. Hairston will declare for the draft, and, based on potential, he'll go high. (remember: NBA scouts are currently salivating over Mario Hezonja, a guy who can't get off the bench in the Spanish professional league) The NBA doesn't care if you borrowed a couple of luxury cars. All the NBA cares about is if you can ball. 

So it'll end with a whimper, and maybe a press conference where Hairston thanks the school for the opportunities it provided him, and everyone will have fake smiles plastered on his face. 

But that's down the road. Right now, the word is "done". 
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