CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Marvin Austin, Robert Quinn and Greg Little were supposed to lead North Carolina's resurgence under coach Butch Davis this season. Instead, they never even stepped on the field.
And the trouble for the football program is still not over.
The school kicked Austin off the team Monday while the NCAA declared Quinn and Little "permanently ineligible" amid an ongoing investigation into whether players received improper benefits from agents.
Monday was the latest step in a painstaking process that has inched along for weeks. The Tar Heels, who are also being investigated for possible academic violations, began the season with 13 players sidelined. The status of six players remains in question.
The investigations have damaged the reputation of the program and university. They also have raised the possibility of sanctions or vacated wins, even questions about a lack of institutional control for the program.
The NCAA said Quinn and Little received travel accommodations and jewelry, then lied about it to investigators in three separate interviews. Meanwhile, the school decided it wouldn't wait any longer to cut ties with Austin — a star defensive tackle at the center of the investigation since it began during the summer — after the NCAA provided preliminary information that Austin had received double the benefits furnished to Quinn and Little.
Athletic director Dick Baddour said the school wouldn't appeal the NCAA ruling.
"I'm also very sad and disappointed that these individuals made these extraordinarily poor choices," Davis said during a news conference.
Baddour said Davis continues to have "my complete support" in resolving the issues, including better monitoring of players' activities, offseason travel and associations. He also said the school could hear rulings on more players later this week.
In a statement announcing Austin's dismissal, the school said the decision involved violations of rules for agent benefits, preferential treatment and ethical conduct as the NCAA cited with Quinn and Little.
"I want to apologize to the NCAA and the entire North Carolina Tar Heel community including my teammates, coaches, students and fans," Austin said. "I have let you all down and I am truly sorry."
The NCAA said Quinn, a defensive end widely regarded as a high first-round NFL draft pick, accepted two black diamond watches, a pair of matching earrings and travel accommodations to Miami for benefits worth $5,642. Little, a receiver, accepted diamond earrings, as well as travel accommodations for the Bahamas, Washington, D.C., and a pair of trips to Miami for benefits worth $4,952.
Baddour said the decision to dismiss Austin, who has been suspended for violating team rules since Sept. 1, came after the NCAA determined he had received between $10,000 and $13,000 in improper benefits.
The investigation began this summer focused on agent-related benefits, but expanded to include possible academic violations. Baddour said Austin, Quinn and Little weren't involved in the academic probe, which is running through the school's student judicial system.
Alabama: Leading receiver Julio Jones is questionable for this week after breaking his left hand in the first half of the loss to South Carolina. Jones finished the game and had surgery Sunday after exams revealed the break, said coach Nick Saban, who added that Jones would return as soon he can tolerate using his hand again. Also, a groin injury is likely to sideline right tackle D.J. Fluker for at least the Ole Miss game this week.
Buffalo: Linebacker Scott Pettigrew, who is not playing this season because of a knee injury, is expected to fully recover after being stabbed in the chest over the weekend. Buffalo police say three 22-year-old men are facing assault and weapons charges.
Houston: The Cougars will ask the NCAA for a waiver to allow injured quarterback Case Keenum to play a sixth season. There's no timetable for submitting the appeal, and the NCAA also has no deadline for making a decision. Keenum was nearing NCAA career records for yards and touchdown passes when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while attempting a tackle in a 31-13 loss Sept. 18 at UCLA.
Missouri: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert will start for the No. 21 Tigers when they travel to Texas A&M on Saturday. Gabbert suffered what is being called a high right hip pointer against Colorado.
Mississippi State: Receiver Leon Berry will miss the rest of the regular season because of a dislocated ankle. Berry, the team's main kick returner, could return if the Bulldogs make a bowl game.
Oregon State: Flanker James Rodgers will miss the rest of the season with a left knee injury.