Now comes the long uncomfortable interlude for N.C. State. Now comes the torturous period of the unknown.
In the first hours after the school announced that the NCAA had come calling, delivering the feared yet expected notice of allegations, we saw the typical reaction from all sides.
The school vowed “transparency,” a term that sounds good but means nothing. The fans started dumpster fires, mostly between State and Carolina fans, a phenomenon that comes in cycles and, again, means nothing.
And journalists and industry onlookers began to speculate.
What does this all mean?
Last month, the NCAA said it would deliver notices to a minimum of six schools and possibly as many as a dozen this summer. That it was N.C. State that received the first one is either a troubling sign for the school and the departed coaches or the NCAA sees State as a slam-dunk case.
This is a new era for the NCAA. In the aftermath of the FBI investigation into the grassroots feeder system found to be corrupt to its core, the sanctioning body might feel either an opportunity or an obligation to send a message.
State could get that message first.
The NCAA has long been accused of chasing old transgressions then penalizing current innocents, penalizing schools for misdeeds by coaches and players no longer at the universities. This has been the policy of the NCAA since its inception. State is praying that the NCAA will use this as a new era of penalizing coaches and not schools.
A first reading of the notice of allegations suggests just that. While former coach Mark Gottfried and his assistant Orlando Early are mentioned in two Level 1 violations, the school is mentioned in the two Level 2 violations involving minor transgressions.
In the old days, that didn’t matter.
And the severity of the Level 1 violations involving Gottfried, Early and former player Dennis Smith Jr. might be too toxic for the NCAA to ignore. FBI documents showed Smith received $73,500 in loans while being recruited by agent Andy Miller and $40,000 to sign with State.
In years past, such a brazen violation of NCAA rules would result in crippling penalties aimed at the school, sometimes years after the fact. Do the allegations delivered to State this week suggest a move toward going after the coaches instead of the school? That’s one way to read the report. But what we don’t know, and what will keep State and the other schools awaiting their turn up at night, is the intention of the NCAA’s infractions committee.
Still burning from recent setbacks (yes, we’re talking about UNC), the committee that will ultimately decide State’s fate is an independent body made up of volunteers from member schools.
Don’t think it’s a coincidence that N.C. State’s first act after receiving its notice was to hire the same law firm – Bond, Schoeneck & King – that represented Carolina in the long-running academic scandal that resulted in the school being put on probation by the Southern Accreditation of Colleges and Schools for one year but the athletics department getting away with everything.
State fans and alumni will see this as a litmus test for Chancellor Randy Woodson and newly hired athletics director Boo Corrigan.
The rest of the country see this as a litmus test for the NCAA. That’s ultimately N.C. State’s biggest fear. Will the basketball program pay the price for violations committed by coaches no longer on campus, benefiting a player who stayed for only one season, all under the supervision of an athletics director who retired in May?
All eyes are on N.C. State now as it squirms in an uncomfortable light with schools and coaches watching from afar. Arizona. Kansas. Auburn. Louisville. Oklahoma State. LSU. The list is long.
Coaches like Bill Self from Kansas, Sean Miller from Arizona and Bruce Pearl from Auburn are nervous now.
And in the middle is the NCAA, which has long been frustrated by not being able to get to the suspected dirty schools and their dirty coaches. Now it can. Now it has them cornered and cowering.
The question is what now?
In Raleigh, that question will hang over the program for an entire basketball season. And maybe beyond.
The wait has begun. The torture is part of the sentence.