Wednesday, December 14, 2011 Updated: December 15, 7:51 PM ET
South Carolina cuts scholarships
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina told the NCAA it agrees that major violations took place in its football program and will eliminate six football scholarships over the next three years as part of several self-imposed penalties.
The school released its response Wednesday, three months after the NCAA said the Gamecocks received $55,000 in improper benefits for staying at a Columbia hotel at a reduced rate. The NCAA also noted the university's improper involvement with a Delaware-based mentoring group whose president and treasurer are boosters and South Carolina graduates.
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"The university does not contest the allegations" by the NCAA, said the second sentence of South Carolina's 111-page response.
South Carolina also said it would pay a fine of $18,500 for four football players who played while ineligible in 2009 due to these violations and reduce its number of official visits for its football and track and field teams.
The university has disassociated itself from three boosters, including Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation president Steve Gordon and Kevin Lahn, and demoted former head of compliance Jennifer Stiles for her office's role in signing off on the hotel arrangements.
The school also offered a three-year period of probation.
"We continue to work in full cooperation with the NCAA on this very serious matter," president Harris Pastides said. "As an institution, we established self-imposed penalties and implemented corrective actions."
The NCAA said last September that 10 South Carolina football players and two members of its women's track team received $47,000 in improper benefits for staying at a Columbia hotel for a reduced rate that was about a quarter of what should've been charged. The NCAA said the school committed a second major violation when athletes or prospects received $8,000 in benefits from Gordon and Lahn of SAMF.
South Carolina did not dispute either allegation, although it called compliance's decision to allow the hotel stays a "good faith error in judgment."
The Whitney Hotel a few miles off campus charged a rate of $14.95 per athlete for two-bedroom suites. The NCAA found the rate should've been more than $57 per night for each athlete. One football player who spent more than year at the hotel, the NCAA said, received an extra benefit worth $19,280.
Stiles and the compliance office had said the hotel rate was comparable to other available off-campus housing. The NCAA called her assessment "flawed" in correspondence from 2010 and said the school should've compared with rates given others who stayed at the Whitney long term.
"Had this good faith error in judgment not occurred, the university believes the violations in allegation one would have been minimized," South Carolina said in its response.
Gordon and Lahn were found to have paid for several unofficial visits by Gamecocks freshman receiver Damiere Byrd.
Byrd was suspended for South Carolina's first four games and made to pay back $2,700.
Lahn also paid for a $3,350 dinner cruise on nearby Lake Murray for several prospects that was also attended by track coach Curtis Frye and 16 members of his program.
Gordon has said he and his outfit did not steer athletes to South Carolina or any schools. Florida defensive end Sharrif Floyd, who was also involved with Gordon's group, was suspended for two games and made to pay back $2,700.
The university acknowledged SAMF made more visits to South Carolina than other schools and those trips helped in recruiting Byrd.
The school said it will reduce football scholarships by one in 2012-13, by three in 2013-14 and by two in 2014-15. The football team will reduce its official visits from 56 to 30 in 2012-2013.
The NCAA will consider South Carolina's self-imposed penalties at a hearing on the violations in February.
The Gamecocks (No. 9 BCS, No. 10 AP) will face Nebraska (No. 20 BCS, No. 21 AP) in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 2. A victory would give 10-2 Carolina the program's first-ever 11-win season. Head coach Steve Spurrier received a two-year contract extension through 2015 this past Tuesday.
Spurrier will be part of the South Carolina contingent facing the NCAA in two months.