Former North Carolina football player Kentwan Balmer paid for his college teammates, Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas, to travel to California in the summer of 2009, Thomas said Tuesday.
Thomas, a rookie defensive tackle for the San Diego Chargers, did not provide financial details, or the dates, but said he and Austin worked out at the Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif. in the summer before the 2009 season.
Reached by phone on Tuesday afternoon, Thomas, who started all 13 games for UNC in the 2009 season, said he and Austin took the trip together and "'Twan paid for [the trip]." Thomas, the Chargers' fifth-round pick, then declined further comment.
Balmer, Thomas and Austin were teammates at UNC for the 2007 season and each played defensive tackle. Their position coach was John Blake, UNC's recruiting coordinator and associate head coach. Austin and Blake's relationship with California-based agent Gary Wichard has become a part of the NCAA investigation into the UNC football program, Wichard said last Thursday.
The NCAA returned to Chapel Hill on Aug. 4 after making initial visits on July 12 and July 13 to interview an undisclosed number of players, including Austin, about receiving improper benefits from an agent.
Under NCAA bylaw 22.214.171.124.6, or more commonly referred to as the "preferential treatment" bylaw, athletes can't 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."
Amy Herman, UNC's assistant athletic director for compliance, declined to comment on Thomas' statement but answered a general question about a former player providing travel expenses for current player(s).
Herman said there are no set NCAA punishments for violating the preferential treatment bylaw.
"[The punishment] would be interpretative," Herman said, "based on the facts of the specific case."
Potential punishments include vacating the games Austin and Thomas participated in 2009, which would be the entire season. UNC went 8-5 last year.