NCAA spells out allegations against USC

It says Whitney Hotel, SAM Foundation provided $55,000 in benefits to athletes, prospects

jkendall@thestate.comSeptember 19, 2011 

The Whitney Hotel.

FILE — THE STATE

South Carolina athletes or prospective athletes received $55,000 in extra benefits from representatives of the school’s athletics interests and the university failed to properly monitor two potentially improper situations, according to a notice of allegations sent to the university Monday by the NCAA.

South Carolina has until Dec. 14 to respond to the notice. USC is scheduled to appear before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in February and may be subject to repeat violator status because of a 2005 investigation.

Ten football players and two women’s track athletes received reduced rates at the Whitney Hotel worth $47,000 from May 2009 to October 2010, the notice states. In addition, nine of the football players were provided improper loans in the form of delayed rent payments, the NCAA determined.

South Carolina disassociated Jamie Blevins, general manager at the Whitney Hotel, from the university on Friday. Blevins, who could not be reached for comment Monday, is disassociated indefinitely, according to a letter the school sent Blevins.

The Whitney Hotel provided the athletes a daily rate of $14.95 for two-bedroom suites the NCAA determined should have cost more than $57. One football player received the reduced rate for 459 days, an extra benefit worth $19,280, according to the NCAA. Another received the rate for 410 days, an extra benefit worth $16,940.

In documents previously provided to The State, South Carolina acknowledged compliance director Jennifer Stiles was aware athletes were living at the Whitney, and the school said its evaluation of the rental agreements was “flawed.”

The second violation the NCAA found involves the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation and its president, Steve Gordon, and treasurer, Kevin Lahn. Lahn and Gordon provided $8,000 worth of recruiting inducements and extra benefits to prospective football athletes, one prospective basketball athlete and 16 members of the men’s and women’s track and field teams. Lahn and Gordon are USC graduates and have been disassociated by the university.

All player names in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations are redacted, but the primary athlete linked to the SAM Foundation in the letter, according to Gordon, is freshman wide receiver Damiere Byrd. Byrd is serving a four-game suspension and must replay $2,700 worth of recruiting inducements the NCAA alleges were provided to him by the SAM Foundation.

The NCAA believes Lahn introduced Byrd, an elite high school sprinter, to USC track coach Curtis Frye, financed four unofficial visits for Byrd and his father, Adrian (the vice president of the SAM Foundation) to South Carolina from their home in New Jersey, provided Byrd and his parents two gifts cards valued at $170 and food and entertainment at Lahn’s home at least five times.

Lahn also sent an email to the USC compliance department asking for USC president Harris Pastides to meet with Byrd’s mother during Byrd’s official visit to the school, according to the NCAA letter. Pastides was never shown the letter and did not meet with Byrd’s mother, according to the NCAA. Byrd’s name is redacted in the Notice of Allegations, but Gordon identified the player to be Byrd.

The NCAA also alleges misconduct involving athletes South Carolina recruited but did not sign. In 2009 and 2010, Lahn and Gordon introduced a player to a South Carolina assistant football coach, according to the NCAA. That coach is quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus, Gordon said. Gordon has known Mangus since Mangus was the head coach at Delaware Valley, just outside Philadelphia, Gordon said.

“I do that with all coaches at all schools,” Gordon said. “That is called getting your kids recruited.”

Mangus is required to attend the school’s hearing before the infractions committee.

The SAM Foundation brought 49 football players to South Carolina’s campus for a 7-on-7 tournament in June of 2010, Gordon said. As part of that trip, Lahn paid for a dinner boat cruise on Lake Murray at a cost of $3,350, the NCAA determined.

“If (South Carolina was) doing things illegal, it wasn’t doing them very good. They only got one kid,” Gordon said Monday. “The SAM Foundation did not receive any preferential treatment from the football team. I think coach (Steve) Spurrier runs a top-notch, totally pristine program, period. They don’t violate rules.”

The SAM Foundation also provided players with trips to Georgia, Clemson, Florida, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Michigan, Rutgers, Penn State, Boston College and Maryland, Gordon said.

Lahn and Gordon also provided recruiting inducements to a basketball player and introduced the player to a South Carolina assistant basketball coach, the NCAA believes. Gordon identified that coach as Mike Boynton, whom the NCAA has requested attend the infraction committee hearing, and the player as a Nigerian-born athlete who currently is at a junior college in Texas.

Frye and 16 members of the men’s and women’s track teams also went on the Lake Murray cruise, according to the NCAA.

The Whitney Hotel situation and the involvement of the SAM Foundation are “considered to be potential major violations,” and both should have been monitored differently by the university, according to the NCAA’s letter. South Carolina officials should have known the Whitney rates being paid by the players were low because the school had, since 2004, paid for coaches and athletics department personnel to stay there on a temporary basis at a much higher rate, the NCAA said.

South Carolina is subject to repeat violator status because its previous NCAA case, involving violations under former football coach Lou Holtz, was decided on Nov. 16, 2005. The NCAA could subject South Carolina to more stringent penalties if it is found to be a repeat violator.

USC has until Dec. 14 to respond to the notice and is scheduled to appear before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions Feb. 17-18 in Los Angeles. The university’s response will include whether South Carolina agrees with the NCAA findings and could include self-imposed sanctions.

Athletics director Eric Hyman, football coach Steve Spurrier, Pastides, Mangus, Stiles and Boynton are expected to appear before the Committee on Infractions, according to the letter.

“We have and will continue to cooperate fully with the NCAA in all aspects of their review,” Hyman said in a statement released by the school. “Any pertinent information from the NCAA that can help us strengthen our athletics program will be used as an opportunity to make positive change.”

Luanne Lawrence, the school’s vice president for communications, said Monday evening the school has not had enough time to determine if it agrees in part or in full with the NCAA’s findings.

Pastides, in a statement, said: “The university will review the notice and respond accordingly. I assure you that we will continue to take all aspects of this investigation very seriously. We are prepared to continue to work with the NCAA to resolve any issues.”

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