Austin, a senior, has been projected as a possible NFL first-round pick. He will not play Saturday night when the No. 18 Tar Heels face No. 21 LSU in Atlanta.
The suspension marks the latest twist during a turbulent summer for North Carolina.
The NCAA made two trips to Chapel Hill this summer to look into whether Austin and receiver Greg Little received improper benefits from agents. Wednesday’s announcement did not address Little’s status. Both players had been working with the second team for much of training camp and haven’t spoken with reporters.
South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders, who also has been at the center of NCAA inquiries for possible improper agent contact, has been suspended by the Gamecocks. Saunders will not play Thursday night against Southern Mississippi, though South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Saunders’ suspension was not connected to the NCAA probe.
The investigation at North Carolina expanded last week to include possible academic misconduct, with school officials saying it involved an unknown number of players and a woman who previously worked as a tutor for Davis‘ son. The school has declined to specify how many players could be involved or are in jeopardy of missing the LSU game.
The NCAA also has looked at a cross-country trip involving Austin and former Tar Heels player Cam Thomas, and the friendship between assistant coach John Blake and California-based agent Gary Wichard.
The investigation led to disruptions in game preparations for the opener. The team did not issue a depth chart earlier this week, a break from customary game-week protocol, and Davis said he has used using a “fluid” informal depth chart during practice.
Earlier Wednesday, Davis said during the Atlantic Coast Conference’s weekly coaches’ teleconference that the Tar Heels were “in a holding mode.” Team officials canceled all scheduled media availability with players in advance of the LSU game. Players had been scheduled to talk with reporters Wednesday afternoon.