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Chargers Rookie DT Cam Thomas Involved in NCAA Investigation of UNC

It appears the NCAA is investigating the University of North Carolina's football program for violating the "preferential treatment" bylaw, and in the middle of the investigation is Charger's fifth-round draft pick, Cam Thomas.

During the 2007 season, Thomas played along the defensive line at UNC along with Kentwan Balmer and Marvin Austin.  Balmer entered the NFL draft following that season and was selected in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers.

In the summer prior to the 2009 season, Balmer invited Thomas and Austin out to California to work out with him at the Proactive Sports Performance, near Thousand Oaks.  It has recently come out, through comments made by Thomas, that Balmer paid for Thomas and Austin to come out west. So yes, essentially Balmer flew his two former teammates, and presumably friends, out to California to work out with him.  This seems innocent enough, right?

Well, things get a little complicated when you start looking at how players and agents are connected.  While at UNC, the three players had the same position coach: John Blake.  Balmer and Blake both have connections to the same agent: Gary Wichard.  This has become the crux of the the NCAA's investigation.

The NCAA is investigating just what happened during the trip to California, focusing on whether or not Austin (and/or Thomas) received improper benefits from an agent.  Under the NCAA's "preferential treatment" bylaw, athletes are not to receive "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."

There's a lot that isn't clear here just yet.  For starters, what would happen if Thomas and Austin were found to have violated the rules?  Problem is, there's no set precedence or rule for punishment; it's all based on the crime committed.

Some of the possible punishments range from just a one-game suspension for Austin this season, to vacating all the games in which Thomas or Austin played during the 2009 season, which was just, ummm, all of them.  This would erase UNC's 8-5 season record.  Or, Austin and Thomas could be cleared of any wrong-doing and nothing happens.

So essentially this could all be forgotten, or it could be yet another NCAA Football scandal involving an NFL player, a la Reggie Bush.  Of course, this doesn't quite match the magnitude of what happened in USC, it most certainly could be a huge blow to UNC's football program.