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March 20, 2012

Sanctions aren't scaring away top recruits

Conventional wisdom suggested the announcement of NCAA sanctions last week would cause North Carolina's committed prospects to rethink their decision.

It hasn't happened.

Not only has North Carolina not lost any recruits since receiving penalties that included a one-year bowl ban, the Tar Heels actually gained a couple. Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett all-purpose athlete Donnie Miles and Charlotte Mallard Creek cornerback Brian Walker committed to the Tar Heels over the last few days.

"[The sanctions] didn't affect my decision at all," Miles told TarHeelIllustrated.com. "I hated it for the seniors. They can't go to a bowl game. But everything will be fine."

The lack of any short-term damage to North Carolina's recruiting class after getting placed on three years' probation shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. After all, three scandal-ridden programs finished in the top 10 of the 2012 team recruiting rankings.

USC continued to attract blue-chip prospects while enduring a two-year bowl ban and placed eighth in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings for 2012, the first of three years in which the Trojans are limited to 15 scholarships as part of their penalty.

Ohio State ranked fourth in the rankings despite getting hit with a one-year bowl ban. Finishing ninth was Miami, a program under investigation and facing the possibility of sanctions.

"With the big brand-name schools, it certainly can make a kid pause, but I don't think it will drive them away," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said.

But that doesn't mean North Carolina fans should exhale just yet.

Farrell believes Ohio State, USC and Miami can withstand this kind of setback because each fits his definition of a brand-name program. He doesn't put North Carolina in the same category.

North Carolina already took a hit in recruiting last year while waiting for the impending sanctions and playing a season with interim coach Everett Withers following the firing of Butch Davis. The Tar Heels' 2012 recruiting class placed seventh in the ACC and 44th nationally, a sharp decline for a team that had ranked ninth in 2009, 29th in 2010 and 16th in 2011.

The Tar Heels have six commitments for the Class of 2013. Albermarle (N.C.) High offensive tackle R.J. Prince and Walker are the two four-star prospects in the group.

But Farrell said he felt a buzz surrounding North Carolina among in-state and southern recruits during the Davis era that now seems to be missing. He wonders if North Carolina will feel an impact similar to the recruiting slump Kentucky faced after getting placed on three years' probation in 2002.

Here's a look at the 2012 recruiting rankings for four major-conference teams that either were facing sanctions or under an NCAA investigation. Click the school for a look at the entire class.
Ohio State4th
North Carolina44th
"I remember when Kentucky went on probation for football, kids shied away like crazy," Farrell said. "That's a basketball school. The football schools - the powers - can overcome something like this. That's why I think North Carolina is going to struggle, because they're a basketball school as well."

North Carolina would love to withstand its sanctions as well as Ohio State has responded thus far to its own penalties.

Seven players from Ohio State's 25-man 2012 signing class committed after the Dec. 20 announcement of sanctions that included a one-year bowl ban and the loss of nine scholarships over a three-year stretch. Six of those seven recruits were four-star prospects.

South Bend (Ind.) Washington athlete and Rivals250 prospect David Perkins indicated only a three-year bowl ban likely would have prevented him from signing with the Buckeyes.

"Really, the sanctions at Ohio State, they weren't that bad," Perkins said. "Everyone was expecting some pretty big things to come down on them, but it's a one-year bowl ban and a couple of scholarship losses. That's not that bad. It doesn't affect people who are coming in the next class as much as it would a senior or junior."

Ohio State already has commitments from five of the nation's top 130 recruits for the Class of 2013, including five-star cornerback Cameron Burrows of Trotwood (Ohio) Madison. Of course, those 2013 recruits won't be affected by a one-year bowl ban that takes effect in 2012.

While the announcement of sanctions at least gave Ohio State and North Carolina some sense of closure, Miami still faces the fear of the unknown. Miami was bowl eligible last season but chose not to accept a postseason bid as part of its self-imposed penalties as it hopes for leniency from the NCAA.

But the Hurricanes are still awaiting an announcement on sanctions. Even though South Plantation (Fla.) running back Alex Collins has verbally committed to Miami, the 2013 prospect said the NCAA situation concerns him.

"I still don't know what's going to happen," Collins said. "I would hate to be punished for it. By the time I come there, the sanctions would just be beginning to take place."

Collins noted that harsh penalties could cause him to rethink his decision because he doesn't want to get punished for something he didn't do. But he still went ahead and committed to Miami because he wanted to play close to home and he sensed the Hurricanes are on the verge of getting back to championship contention.

"There's going to be a time when they get back on their feet," Collins said. "I think now's the time for them."

That's thanks in part to a 2012 class that included 33 players. About half of them committed after a Yahoo! Sports report detailed allegations that renegade booster Nevin Shapiro had given out improper benefits to Miami players, a report that led to the NCAA investigation.

Those players realized Miami was facing an uncertain future. They knew there was a possibility Miami could get hit with penalties that might include a bowl ban. So why did they choose Miami over programs that weren't under an NCAA investigation?

Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson defensive end Tyriq McCord understands the questions. He initially had similar concerns.

McCord, the No. 92 recruit in the 2012 class, visited Miami last summer and reportedly called the school a "perfect fit" at the time. Almost as soon as he got back home, news broke about the Shapiro charges. At that point, McCord crossed Miami off his list.

Then he decided to reconsider the Hurricanes.

"I had to realize the sanctions weren't really what it's about," McCord said. "It's about my education first and foremost."

McCord remembered that he had fallen in love with Miami when he visited the campus. McCord eventually wants to become a sportscaster, and he really liked Miami's broadcast communications department.

He ultimately decided Miami's advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Even if Miami gets hit with a bowl ban, McCord says he wouldn't regret his choice.

"It would be discouraging," McCord said. "I really would love to play in a bowl game because that's what we all want to play for. We want to play for championships. But ultimately I'll be down there with people I love, people I want to be with, and my coaches are very supportive throughout the whole process. I trust them and 'The U' family around the nation.

"I'm surrounded and guided by people who love me, and I love them back. I feel very comfortable at the end of the day, whether I'm able to be in a bowl game this year or not."

Plenty of other prospects across the country are taking similar leaps of faith.

Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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