Gamecocks under the NCAA gun

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
11:23
AM ET
South Carolina has submitted its response to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations, and in short, the Gamecocks agree that they are guilty as charged. They committed three "major and serious" NCAA violations.

The next step is appearing before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Los Angeles on Feb. 17-18. That hearing will determine whether or not South Carolina's self-imposed sanctions are enough in the eyes of the NCAA, which could decide to add penalties.

South Carolina has already placed itself on a three-year probationary period and will cut six football scholarships over the next three years -- one in 2012-13, three in 2013-14 and two in 2014-15. In addition, South Carolina will cut its recruiting visits from 56 to 30 in 2012-13.

Much of the NCAA trouble the Gamecocks find themselves in stems from the extra benefits players received at the Whitney Hotel. They were allowed to stay at significantly reduced rates, and the hotel was managed by someone the NCAA deemed to be a booster of the university. Jamie Blevins, who had donated to the school, was disassociated in September. In its response to the NCAA, South Carolina said there were more than $50,000 in extra benefits provided to athletes by the Whitney Hotel.

One of the sticking points here is that the Gamecocks played four ineligible players in 2008 and 2009 because of the Whitney Hotel extra benefits. Instead of forfeiting or vacating wins, South Carolina offered to pay an $18,500 penalty. Again, the NCAA will have the final say on what South Carolina's penalties are.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier hasn't been linked to any of these violations, but he's required to attend the Committee on Infractions hearing in February.

Three boosters have been disassociated, including Student Athlete Foundation (SAM) Foundation president Steve Gordon and treasurer Kevin Lahn. Both are South Carolina graduates and are accused by the NCAA of giving $8,000 in inducements and extra benefits to prospective football players, one prospective basketball player and several members of the men's and women's track teams.

Freshman receiver Damiere Byrd, who was a member of the SAM Foundation, was suspended for the first four games of the 2011 season after the NCAA determined he had received $2,700 worth of recruiting inducements from the SAM Foundation.

The big loser in this whole thing, maybe even the scapegoat, is former South Carolina compliance director Jennifer Stiles, who was demoted this week to another position within the compliance office. According to the university, she approved some of the players staying at the Whitney Hotel and their lease arrangements.

The university now says that her assessment of those leases and whether they complied with NCAA rules was flawed and was a "good faith error in judgment."

Obviously, she's the one who's paying the heaviest price, but the entire compliance system at South Carolina failed in this case. There should have been more antennas raised throughout the athletic department, including the football staff, with so many players staying at such a nice hotel that was a member of the Gamecock Club and managed by someone who had donated to the school.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the Gamecocks are subject to repeat violator status. That's because South Carolina's last NCAA case, which involved violations while Lou Holtz was head coach, was settled on Nov. 16, 2005.

So it remains to be seen how hard the NCAA will hit the Gamecocks. Predicting NCAA penalties is a total crapshoot.

All in all, though, if the Gamecocks get off with just the six forfeited scholarships they've self-imposed and no additional penalties, it has to be considered a win for them when you consider the extra benefits involved here and the fact that they played ineligible players.

The thing they have going for them is that only one coach, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus, is linked to any wrongdoing in the NCAA's report. Even then, the university has stood behind Mangus, who has denied that he committed any violations.

Chris Low | email

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