Report: Balmer paid for UNC DT Austin's trip to Cali

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Another day, and another chapter has been added to the summer soap opera that is the North Carolina football program.

The latest drama to come out of Chapel Hill involves a pair of former UNC players — Kentwan Balmer and Cam Thomas — and a current member of the Tar Heels who’s come to be the poster child for the NCAA’s investigation into players’ relationships with agentsMarvin Austin.

In what appears to have been a brief conversation with J.P. Giglio of the Raleigh News & Observer, Thomas, a rookie with the San Diego Chargers, admitted that Balmer paid for a trip he and Austin made to Proactive Sports Performance in California before the 2009 season.  “Twan paid for [the trip],” Thomas said before declining further comment.

Proactive Sports is located two miles from Pro Tect Management, an agency founded, owned and run by Gary Wichard, the agent whose long-time relationship with current UNC assistant John Blake seems to be near the heart of the NCAA’s current investigation.

Several of Wichard’s clients have trained at Proactive Sports prior to the draft in recent years; Balmer is currently represented by Wichard.

In addition to the most current allegation made against Balmer, the San Francisco 49ers lineman has also previously been accused of allowing Austin to use his automobile and stay in his home during the offseason  And, in what could either be merely a huge coincidence or yet another clue as to where this investigation is heading, Balmer was absent from 49ers’ training camp Monday and Tuesday to deal with what a source told PFT was “a family issue”.

Regardless, this is yet another chunk of bad news for the UNC football program.

As noted by the News & Observer, NCAA bylaws prohibit “preferential treatment, benefits or services because of the individual’s athletics reputation or skill or pay-back potential as a professional athlete, unless such treatment, benefits or services are specifically permitted under NCAA legislation.”

Balmer allegedly paying for the trips to California would be considered preferential treatment, a violation that UNC assistant athletic director Amy Herman said would be subject to “interpretative” punishment “based on the facts of the case.”

If Austin was deemed to have received illegal benefits, he could pay back the money he received and still retain eligibility, although he would still be subject to suspension if the amount was over $500.

However, when you consider the fact that Austin is also under scrutiny for a trip he took to South Beach this past Memorial Day, it’s looking more and more likely that Butch Davis will simply not be able to risk putting the talented lineman in uniform and on the field if those whole mess is not cleared up by the time the season rolls around.

And this is all without even mentioning the fact that the latest accusation happened before the start of the 2009 season, which would’ve made both Austin and Thomas ineligible.  For using ineligible players, UNC could be forced to vacate their eight wins.  And be subject to further punishment from the NCAA.

Is this Reggie Bush v2.0 in the making?  For UNC’s sake, they’d better hope that’s just anonymous NCAA hyperbole.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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Matt Krohn/USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.