COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina freshman receiver Damiere Byrd has been suspended four games by the NCAA for his involvement with a mentoring organization.
In addition to sitting out games, the NCAA said Friday that Byrd must also pay back $2,700 in impermissible benefits he and the family received from a South Carolina booster during his recruitment. The NCAA said the inducements included lodging, transportation and meals during unofficials visits to South Carolina. The NCAA said Byrd or his family attended a party at the booster's home and received gift cards.
"Our members have continually made it clear boosters and other third parties do not have a place in recruiting student-athletes," said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs.
The Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation is the same organization Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was involved with and the Gators sophomore received a two-game suspension and also ordered by the NCAA to repay $2,700 in impermissible benefits from the SAM Foundation.
Byrd was held out of last week's South Carolina victory over East Carolina. The 12th-ranked Gamecocks open Southeastern Conference play at Georgia on Saturday. Byrd would also miss contests against Navy and Vanderbilt before returning unless South Carolina appeals, which athletic director Eric Hyman said the school is considering.
The 5-foot-9 receiver from Sicklerville, N.J., was expected to see action against East Carolina until the Gamecocks announced he was held out because of a compliance issue.
Byrd's suspension comes from his participation in the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation, an organization based in Delaware that provides "supplementary support to high school student-athletes in both their academic and athletic endeavors," according to its website.
Byrd's father, Adrian, is vice president of the foundation. Steve Gordon, the foundation president, and SAM treasurer Kevin Lahn are South Carolina graduates. Lahn was considered a booster by the NCAA because he holds Gamecocks football season tickets.
Gordon disagreed with the penalties for Byrd and Floyd. He said Byrd went on several scouting trips with his father and "the NCAA thought that was an unfair advantage."
"There's only one reason he decided to go to South Carolina, and that's because Florida treated him like he was a nobody at their Friday Night Lights event. He turned to his dad and said, 'Does South Carolina play Florida every year?' His dad said, 'Yeah, they're in the same division.' He said, 'I want to play for South Carolina and show Florida what they're missing out on.'"
Gordon said the NCAA "poo-pooed that notion."
"We don't tell kids where to go to school. We just want them to go to school."
Despite Gordon's intentions, there may be other student-athletes facing penalties from the NCAA who have been involved with SAM.
Gordon said SAM has 18 student-athletes at 17 colleges and that the NCAA has "interviewed a lot of our kids." Gordon declined to identify the other student-athletes, but said the foundation has "been under investigation since October."
He said SAM is "actively seeking counsel on a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA." He said the basis of the lawsuit is that the NCAA has "shown indifference in regards to inner-city kids trying to fight their social situations."
"We have nothing to do with boosters or agents. We're just trying to help kids," Gordon said. "We don't think we're doing anything wrong. We're trying to help kids become contributors to society."
Gordon said he has been told part of the problem is that SAM is not registered with NCAA. He said he's never registered as a mentor with the NCAA, didn't even know he could or needs to do that.
"I've called the NCAA several times, even offered to have them come in we'll talk about what we do," Gordon said. "They still haven't returned my call."
The NCAA had no problem reaching out to South Carolina and Bryd, as well as Floyd and the Gators. Combined they are sitting out six games and repaying $5,400.
Florida coach Will Muschamp said he was "disgusted" that Floyd has to miss two games and that he is "what is good about college athletics." Hyman isn't sure Byrd is being treated fairly either.
Byrd had no idea being part of SAM would affect his eligibility, the South Carolina AD said. Hyman added that Byrd had been upfront about his involvement with the foundation throughout his recruitment.
"While we respect the process, we are very disappointed for Damiere," Hyman said.