A side view of North Carolina's Coastal Division championship rings, which were distributed to the team on Monday. Photo via Twitter (@uncfootball).
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina finished last season in a three-way tie for first in the ACC Coastal Division, and had the Tar Heels been eligible to play in the postseason they would have won tiebreakers against Miami and Georgia Tech and represented the Coastal in the ACC championship game against Florida State.
UNC wasn’t eligible, though, because of NCAA sanctions resulting from the academic fraud and impermissible benefits scandal that rocked the football program in 2010. Even so, UNC is calling itself Coastal Division champions. There is signage inside the football offices to that effect and, now, there are championship rings, too.
The rings arrived on Monday, football team spokesman Kevin Best said, and some UNC football staff members have posted ring pictures on Twitter. Those pictures ignited some criticism, mostly from fans of rival schools. After all, UNC was ineligible to be recognized by the ACC as Coastal Division champs.
Still, the ACC didn’t rule that UNC couldn’t recognize itself as divisional champions. And Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said repeatedly last season that if the Heels finished first in the division, he would consider his team to be Coastal Division champs.
A while back, UNC put up a billboard outside of Charlotte referring to itself as division champions. There is signage in the UNC football offices that reference the division championship. And now there are the rings.
When UNC put up that billboard outside of Charlotte a while back, I called the ACC and asked if the league had a problem with UNC calling itself Coastal Division champions. An ACC spokesperson said then that it’d be inappropriate for any team other than Georgia Tech – which represented the Coastal Division in the league championship game against Florida State – to refer to itself as the divisional champion.
Still, there was no communication between the league office and UNC about the billboard, and no directive to take it down. Based on that, it’d be fair to say that the league office didn’t have much of a stance on UNC calling itself division champs.