Hakeem Nicks, one of the all-time great football players at UNC-Chapel Hill, played his final season in 2008 while ineligible to be on the field, the university acknowledged Thursday.
NCAA documents show that Nicks received improper academic help in the spring of 2008 from a tutor implicated in the NCAA scandal at UNC. The NCAA called what happened “academic fraud.”
Nicks’ ineligibility has not been widely known and was not previously acknowledged by the university.
Nicks, now with the NFL’s New York Giants, could not be reached.
When told of Nicks’ ineligibility, his agent, Peter Schaffer, said, “We have no knowledge of that whatsoever.”
Schaffer downplayed Nicks’ ineligibility, saying, “It’s low on the totem pole of relevant issues.”
UNC will note Nicks’ career and single-season records with an asterisk in media guides and other university publications as part of sanctions imposed by the NCAA in March. Nicks’ achievements will be flagged with the wording that his “participation later vacated due to NCAA penalty.”
Nicks’ name had popped up as the NCAA inquiry mushroomed in 2010. UNC identified Nicks as being one of three former players who provided “impermissible assistance” to current players in the form of travel, lodging, entertainment and other expenses. The value of Nicks’ assistance was listed in a university report as $3,300.
The university said at the time that Nicks and two other former players “thought they were helping out friends and fellow Tar Heels” and said there was no evidence linking Nicks to agents, prospective agents or runners.
In March, the NCAA issued a report that described rules broken by multiple players, the top UNC assistant coach and a former tutor. The violations were related to academic fraud and improper ties to sports agents. By then, the team’s head coach, Butch Davis, had lost his job.
The Tar Heel football team will not be allowed to play in the ACC championship game or a bowl game after the upcoming season, and the university is losing scholarships for players.
All of the wins for 2008 and 2009 (16 total) are being vacated from record books as well.
On Thursday, a university spokesman, Kevin Best, said in an interview that the NCAA probe and resulting infractions report identified actions involving Nicks while he was on the team in 2008.
“He was involved in the case,” Best said. “I cannot tell you which student athlete he is in the infractions report. But he was in the enforcement case.”
The NCAA infractions report, which outlines a range of rule-breaking at UNC, identifies only one player who played in the 2008 season and was gone by 2009, a description that matches Nicks’ career at UNC.
That player is identified in the infractions report as “student-athlete 1,” a former player who provided at least $3,235 in benefits to other players.
“Regarding student-athlete 1, a review of email communications revealed that on April 21, 2008, the former tutor wrote conclusion paragraphs for five of student-athlete 1’s writing assignments in an education course,” the NCAA infractions report says. “By the time the violations were discovered, student-athlete 1 was no longer enrolled at the institution, so no further action was taken.”
The NCAA report says the five papers were for coursework in an Education 441 class. The tutor has been identified as Jennifer Wiley of Durham. She has declined to comment and did not cooperate with the NCAA inquiry.
The NCAA report said a total of six football players competed in 2008, 2009 or 2010 while ineligible.
Separate from the NCAA action, an internal probe at UNC has found that 54 classes within the department of African and Afro-American Studies had little or no instruction and that more than half the students in them were athletes or former athletes.
The numbers will stand*
Nicks played three seasons at UNC, where he caught 181 passes for 2,840 yards and 21 touchdowns. His 2,840 career receiving yards set a school record, and his 1,222 receiving yards in 2008 set a single-season school record. His 21 career touchdown catches are a school record.
Nicks will remain in the UNC record books, but his accomplishments that include numbers from the 2008 season will be listed with an asterisk.
After his junior season ended in 2008, Nicks declared for the 2009 NFL draft. The New York Giants selected him in the first round with the 29th overall pick.
Nicks has developed into a key player for the Giants. He has caught more than 70 passes for more than 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. He caught 10 passes in the Giants’ Super Bowl victory in February against the New England Patriots.