Monday, September 19, 2011
NCAA sends S. Carolina allegations
ESPN.com news services
CLINTON, S.C. -- The NCAA has accused South Carolina athletes of receiving $55,000 worth of impermissible benefits and recruiting inducements for getting reduced hotel rates and for their involvement with a Delaware-based mentoring organization.
The NCAA sent university President Harris Pastides the letter of allegations Monday and requested the school's response by Dec. 14.
Football coach Steve Spurrier was among those asked to meet with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Los Angeles on Feb. 17-18. Track coach Curtis Frye was also asked to attend the hearing.
Pastides said the university would review the allegations and cooperate with the NCAA.
"I assure you that we will continue to take all aspects of this investigation very seriously," Pastides said in a statement. "We are prepared to continue to work with the NCAA to resolve any issues."
ESPN.com's Chris Low and Edward Aschoff write about all things SEC football in the conference blog.
Spurrier did not take questions after practice Monday night.
The NCAA began its investigation at South Carolina in the summer of 2010, talking to former tight end Weslye Saunders about potential contact with agents during a trip to Miami. Instead, the NCAA found Saunders was among several athletes who lived at the Whitney Hotel for a reduced rate.
The NCAA said 10 football players stayed at the hotel at a rate of $14.59 a day. It found two members of the women's track team lived there at a rate of $14.16 per day. It said those rates were not available to the general public and gave athletes extra benefits worth $47,000.
In documents obtained from the school last October through a Freedom of Information Act request, its athletic compliance office had signed off on the rate of $450 per player for a two-bedroom hotel suite. The NCAA had deemed the rate should've been $57 per day for a total of $1,710 per month.
Last summer when Spurrier said he learned about the arrangements, he told his players to pay their bills and find acceptable places to live.
The NCAA's allegations also included dealings with the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation, its president Steve Gordon and its treasurer Kevin Lahn -- both South Carolina graduates. Their foundation has placed 16 inner-city athletes at 14 schools, encouraging academic performance and exposing them to recruiters by funding unofficial campus visits, according to co-founder Steve Gordon.
Earlier this month, the NCAA suspended freshman receiver Damiere Byrd four games and ordered him to repay $2,700 in impermissible benefits before he can play for the Gamecocks. Byrd's father, Adrian, is a vice president with the foundation.
"That's the only kid we had who went to South Carolina," Gordon told ESPN's Tom Farrey. "Stop picking on these kids. The SAM Foundation didn't do anything wrong. All the foundation wanted to do was get these kids into school, any school, instead of relying on an arcane system of these 48-hour (official) visits where they throw hostesses at you."
Byrd has missed No. 12 South Carolina's first three games and will sit out Saturday's contest with Vanderbilt. He is expected to make his college debut Oct. 1.
The NCAA said Gordon and Lahn contacted South Carolina staffers in football, basketball and track about prospective student athletes and funded unofficial visits to campus for those prospects.
The NCAA also said Lahn paid $3,350 for a dinner cruise on Lake Murray about 10 miles away from campus for SAM members visiting for football camps in June 2010. Along with those prospects, 16 members of the men's and women's track team, along with Frye, attended the dinner cruise.
The benefits from Gordon and Lahn totaled $8,000, the NCAA said. Gordon, a teacher and retired high school football coach, described himself as a fan of his college alma mater, but said that had nothing to do with the fact that one of his players ended up at South Carolina.
"I have taken kids to unofficial visits to Clemson," he said. "So am I representative of Clemson's athletic program?"
The NCAA also alleged that South Carolina failed to monitor either the hotel or the SAM situations.
South Carolina has disassociated itself from both Lahn and Gordon as university boosters, school spokeswoman Luanne Lawrence said.
Gordon has said the NCAA's practices, as well as its suspensions of Byrd and Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd -- also part of SAM -- are unfair.
The NCAA "can blackball me forever," Gordon said Monday by phone. "I'm trying to get inner-city kids to college."
Others the NCAA asked to attend the February hearing include athletic director Eric Hyman, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus and assistant men's basketball coach Michael Boynton.
Hyman said his staff would continue cooperating with the NCAA with the goal of making South Carolina's compliance efforts second to none.
"Any pertinent information from the NCAA that can help us strengthen our athletics program will be used as an opportunity to make positive change," Hyman said.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN Outside the Lines corrrespondent Tom Farrey was used in this report.