CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The probe into North Carolina's football program added another prong. Along with it came another batch of question marks to cloud a promising season.
The school's announcement that the investigation of the Tar Heels' program has expanded into possible academic misconduct — one involving players and a woman who coach Butch Davis previously hired to tutor his son — seemed to raise as many questions as it attempted to answer.
How many players may have been involved? Which ones? What were the possible acts of misconduct? And what effect will this uncertainty have on a team expected to challenge for Atlantic Coast Conference supremacy?
"We are looking into improprieties that existed outside the classroom," athletic director Dick Baddour said Thursday night when asked about the specific actions that led to the probe. "That's about as close to that as I can get."
Baddour would not identify the players or even estimate any numbers, saying "to put a bracket around it could be misleading." He declined to get into many specifics, saying only that they involved "a student tutor and student-athletes on the football team."
The announcement came nine days before the 18th-ranked Tar Heels' opener against No. 21 LSU in Atlanta, and roughly two months after the NCAA began an investigation into whether two key players — defensive tackle Marvin Austin and receiver Greg Little — received improper benefits from agents.
Defensive line coach John Blake's longtime friendship with California-based agent Gary Wichard also has drawn the NCAA's interest.
Joint interviews conducted by NCAA and school investigators during that probe led them to a player who "raised an issue that we felt like deserved further consideration on our part.
"It led us down a road that brought us to what we're talking about," Baddour said.
While the investigation is centered on the football program, Baddour said that "we will certainly use the opportunity to take a complete look at everything that we're doing in the academic support program."
Davis declined to identify the tutor in question except to say she was one of the handful his family had hired since their 2007 arrival in Chapel Hill to serve as an academic coach and adviser for his teenage son.
"This is someone that obviously worked with our son," Davis said. "To be honest with you, I think we're really surprised and possibly disappointed, but there's been no revelation as to exactly the extent or what has actually transpired."
Baddour declined to provide additional details about the tutor, except to say that "the person was in (the university's) employ. When we found out about the issues, the tutor was not in our employ."
Baddour said the university has assembled a team to investigate the academic questions. While there is no timetable to resolve that aspect of the probe, "it is likely that the review would extend beyond the start of the season," he said.
If that happens, he said the school will decide if those players will play against LSU, and Baddour said that decision could come as late as gameday.
"The investigation now has two prongs, so I want to caution you against making assumptions if student-athletes don't play," Baddour said.
Davis did acknowledge that starting on Monday, he moved some players around the depth chart as part of a contingency plan in case they aren't permitted to play. He did not specify which players have risen or fallen.
Chancellor Holden Thorp began the news conference by saying "to everyone who loves this university, I'm sorry about what I have to tell you," then vowed that administrators are taking the probe seriously but expressed hope that its scope ultimately would be limited.
"We will find out what happened. We will do everything we can to keep it from happening again," he said. "And we will not let these mistakes define our university and what we stand for."