March 22, 2012

Conventional wisdom would suggest that last week's announcement of NCAA sanctions against North Carolina, including a one-year postseason bowl ban, would cause several 2013 Tar Heels' commits to rethink their decisions. In theory, it would seem to serve as a deterrent of sorts -- a reason to consider the possibility of playing for another interested program.

In reality, it hasn't played out that way at all.

Not only has UNC not lost any recruits since incurring penalties that include three years' probation and 15 lost scholarships, but the program has actually gained several prospects. Suwanee (Ga.) North Gwinnett all-purpose athlete Donnie Miles and Charlotte Mallard Creek cornerback Brian Walker both committed to the team on Tuesday, eight days after the NCAA ruling.

"[The sanctions] didn't affect my decision at all," Miles told "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 shouldn't 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, placing eighth in the first year of its three-year scholarship reduction. Ohio State ranked fourth despite getting hit with a one-year bowl ban, and Miami finished ninth despite an ongoing investigation and the looming possibility of sanctions.

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

That doesn't mean that North Carolina fans should exhale just yet. While Farrell believes Ohio State, USC and Miami can withstand this type of setback, he doesn't think North Carolina falls into the same brand-name category.

The Tar Heels already took a recruiting hit last year while playing under interim coach Everett Withers. UNC's 2012 class placed 44th nationally, a significant drop-off for a team that finished ninth in 2009, 29th in 2010 and 16th in 2011. The newest sanctions could set off a litany of potential problems, similar to the recruiting slump that Kentucky experienced after facing three years' probation in 2002.

"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."

But there is cause for hope. Namely, the recent success of Ohio State.

Seven players from Ohio State's 25-man class committed after the Dec. 20 sanctions announcement 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 David Perkins, who committed on Jan. 18, indicated that only a three-year bowl ban 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 a junior."

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

While the sanctions provide Ohio State and North Carolina with a sense of closure, however, Miami still faces the uncertainty of the unknown. Miami opted to decline a postseason bid last season as part of a self-imposed penalty, but still awaits an official NCAA punishment. Even though South Plantation (Fla.) running back Alex Collins has verbally committed to Miami, the 2013 prospect finds the NCAA situation disconcerting.

"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, as he doesn't want to get punished for something that he didn't participate in. However, he still went ahead and committed to Miami because he wants to play close to home and senses that the Hurricanes are on the verge of returning 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."

He's not alone in his rationale. About half of Miami's 33-player class from last year committed after it came to light that renegade booster Nevin Shapiro offered improper benefits to players, a report that led to an NCAA investigation. The incoming recruits realized that Miami was facing uncertainty and a potential bowl ban. Ultimately, they decided to stick with the Hurricanes anyway.

"I really would love to play in a bowl game because that's what we all want to play for, said Miami signee and Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson defensive end Tyriq McCord. "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."

It's a leap of faith, but it's one that plenty of prospects have recently been willing to take. The Tar Heels have six verbal commitments in their current class of 2013. Let's see if they handle the situation the same way.

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