While the cloud of uncertainty surrounding the severity of penalties that will eventually be levied against North Carolina and its men's basketball program remains, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams should breathe a bit easier after seeing his name appear just once in the 59-page notice of allegations the school released on Thursday.
The school, which received the document on May 20, has long been the subject of an academic fraud investigation into "no-show classes" that was re-opened last year following the independent Wainstein Report. The NCAA's notice of allegations did reveal five allegations -- all Level I violations that the NCAA called a severe breach of conduct -- that could result in significant sanctions to any and all of North Carolina's athletic programs.
One of the allegations was focused primarily on women's basketball, and two others involved former faculty members refusing to speak to the NCAA. The remaining two allegations were, however, significant and somewhat vague: 1) The institution -- from 2002-11 -- provided impermissible benefits to student-athletes that were not generally available to the student body and 2) A lack of institutional control.
The lone mention of Williams in the report referred to when the hall of fame coach was interviewed by the NCAA on Dec. 14, 2014 and expressed concern that so many of his players were majoring in African and Afro-American Studies. Assistant coach Steve Robinson was also mentioned on one occasion as he was interviewed on Nov. 5, 2014 about how the staff handled academic issues.
Nearly all of those who were mentioned significantly throughout the report were associated with academics, and not athletics.
Stu Brown, an Atlanta-based attorney who specializes in college sports issues, said he was shocked at how broad the report was, especially given the nature and longevity of the investigation.
"It was the most benign possible given how serious the issue is," Brown told ESPN after reading the Notice of Allegations. "And there wasn't a single athletic focus. No coach, no athletic director, no associate athletic director."
There were no specific charges tied to any men's basketball coaches or any coaches of any sport for that matter. That doesn't necessarily mean that the men's or women's basketball program is off the hook and won't receive significant penalties.
But it certainly could have looked worse.
The school could also choose to self-impose penalties, as Syracuse did recently when it hit itself with a one-year postseason ban and other restrictions. North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham -- who took over in November of 2011 and is not named in the report -- said during a conference call on Thursday that no decision on self-imposing any penalties has been reached yet, and a final determination on any penalties likely won't be disclosed for another six months or so.
The most important aspect of any sanctions is to avoid a postseason ban. Coaches can live with a reduction in scholarships, a dip in days allowed on the road recruiting, vacating of wins. Just about anything.
Except for a postseason ban.
"To speculate on the outcome is premature," Cunningham said. "The allegations are very serious: Extra benefits, failure to cooperate, unethical conduct, lack of institutional control. All of those are serious, serious allegations."
"There's really nothing new in this," Brown added.
Williams will enter this coming season with arguably his best opportunity to reach the Final Four since the 2009 season, when the Tar Heels won the national title. However, Williams turns 65 in August and will lose three key seniors. Multiple sources told ESPN that North Carolina's recent struggles on the recruiting trail are largely because of the uncertainty on whether the program will receive a postseason ban. The Tar Heels wound up signing two fringe top-100 players in the Class of 2015. And one, Kenny Williams, was a former VCU signee who re-opened his recruitment after Shaka Smart left for Texas.
The pending NCAA investigation it making it difficult for North Carolina to remain among the elite teams in the country. Cunningham said he hoped to learn the sanctions from the NCAA by the end of the calendar year. The NCAA's has proved to be unpredictable in providing an exact timeline.
"We just want a decision," said one person associated with the North Carolina program. "Finality. Closure."
North Carolina has 90 days to submit its response to the Notice of Allegations. The NCAA's enforcement staff then has 60 days to send its own response, which is followed by a hearing before the Committee of Infractions (COI) that will likely occur sometime in the fall. The COI will then release its final report, which includes the penalties, six to eight weeks after the hearing.
The major hope for the men's basketball program is not only to avoid being hit with an NCAA tournament ban, but also to protect the legacy of Williams and the other coaches who were in the program from 2002 to 2011.
The Notice of Allegations didn't tell us much, which should be just fine with Williams.