USC offers to cut six football scholarships

School responds to NCAA allegations

jkendall@thestate.comDecember 14, 2011 

The Whitney Hotel.

FILE — THE STATE

  • NCAA ALLEGATIONS

    1. The Whitney Hotel provided an estimated $47,000 in extra benefits to student athletes in the form of reduced rent.

    2. Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation co-founders Kevin Lahn and Steve Gordon, representatives of USC’s athletics interests, provided extra benefits of more than $8,000.

    3. USC violated principles of rules compliance when it did not sufficiently monitor housing arrangements at the Whitney and the impermissible activities of Lahn and Gordon.

    USC’S RESPONSE

    1. USC agrees that major violations took place in its football program and will eliminate six football scholarships over the next three years.

    2. USC 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.

    3. USC will pay a fine of $18,500 for four football players who played while ineligible in 2009 due to these violations and reduce the number of official visits for its football and track and field teams. The school also offered a three-year period of probation.

    Key Players

    Harris Pastides, Eric Hyman and Steve Spurrier

    South Carolina’s president, athletics director and head football coach have not been linked by the NCAA to any wrongdoing, but they must appear before the Committee on Infractions. The Gamecocks’ appearance before the COI is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 17-18 in Los Angeles.

    Steve Gordon and Kevin Lahn

    The president and treasurer of the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation are both South Carolina graduates who have been disassociated from the university after the NCAA alleged the SAM Foundation 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. Gordon repeatedly has denied wrongdoing. Lahn has declined to speak publicly.

    Jamie Blevins

    A manager at the Whitney Hotel, Blevins was disassociated in September after the NCAA ruled the Whitney provided $47,000 worth of extra benefits to 10 football players and two women’s track athletes in the form of reduced rates on rooms and gave nine football players improper loans in the form of deferred payments.

    Jennifer Stiles

    South Carolina’s former director of compliance was demoted this week to a lesser position in the compliance office and took a pay cut from $86,100 annually to $73,185 annually. Stiles was aware at least some football players were staying at the Whitney and was aware of the rate they were paying, school officials wrote to the NCAA. The compliance office’s assessment of the Whitney situation was “flawed” the school wrote. The NCAA charged South Carolina with a failure to monitor the Whitney and the SAM Foundation situations properly.

    G.A. Mangus

    The Gamecocks’ quarterback coach had a pre-existed relationship with Gordon and Lahn from his time as a coach in the Philadelphia area and recruited wide receiver Damiere Byrd, a New Jersey native at the center of what the NCAA believes was improper recruiting by Gordon and Lahn. Mangus believes he abided by NCAA rules in recruiting Byrd, he said last month.

    Mike Boynton

    The Gamecocks’ assistant basketball coach will have to appear before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions because the NCAA alleges he was met with Lahn during an improper visit made by a basketball recruit.

    Weslye Saunders

    The former tight end was suspended and then dismissed from the team in 2010 for a violation of team rules. Saunders was one of the first football players to stay at the Whitney. He later told The State that he accepted gifts from an agent’s “runner” and lied to NCAA investigators. He was not drafted this year but signed a free agent contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and made the team. He has four catches for 29 yards this season.

    Damiere Byrd

    The freshman wide receiver was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games of the season after the NCAA determined he received $2,700 worth of recruiting inducements and extra benefits from the SAM Foundation. In the final eight games of the season, he caught one pass for 16 yards and carried the ball nine times for 70 yards.

Read the university's full response at the bottom of this story, along with the NCAA's original notice of allegations.

South Carolina told the NCAA on Wednesday that it does not dispute it committed the three “major and serious” NCAA violations and has offered to forfeit six football scholarships over the next three years as punishment.

It laid out its response in a 120-page document turned into the NCAA and released to the public shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday. The Gamecocks have also volunteered to cut their number of official recruiting visits in football and track and field, impose an $18,500 fine on the athletic department and enforce a three-year probationary period.

Wednesday was the deadline given by the NCAA in the Notice of Allegations it sent Sept. 19.

“We continue to work in full cooperation with the NCAA on this very serious matter,” school president Harris Pastides said in a statement. “As an institution, we established self-imposed penalties and Implemented corrective actions.”

South Carolina’s response is merely its suggestion of suitable sanctions to the NCAA. The final determination of punishment will be made by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, which tentatively is scheduled to hear the Gamecocks’ case on Feb. 17-18 in Los Angeles. South Carolina indicated in its response that it expects to appear at that meeting, but an NCAA official declined Wednesday to confirm the date.

The Gamecocks offered to forfeit one football scholarship position in 2012-13, three in 2013-14 and two in 2014-15. They also offered to reduce official visits in football to 30 in 2012-2013.

In the Notice of Allegations sent to South Carolina, the NCAA alleged Gamecock athletes or prospective athletes received $55,000 worth of extra benefits from representatives of the school’s athletic interests and that the university failed to properly monitor two potentially improper situations.

South Carolina disassociated three former boosters earlier this year in connection with the two incidents, one of whom was Whitney Hotel manager Jamie Blevins. Ten football players and two women’s track athletes received reduced rates from Blevins at the Whitney worth $47,000 total from May 2009 to October 2010, the NCAA alleged. In addition, nine of the football players were provided improper loans in the form of delayed rent payments, the NCAA determined.

In its response, South Carolina stated the total value of the Whitney benefits actually was $50,886.80.

The Whitney provided the South Carolina athletes a daily rate of $14.95 for two-bedroom suites the NCAA determined should have cost more than $57 per night per person. 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.

The violations are considered an “extra benefit” rather than the less serious “preferential treatment” because the Whitney was considered a representative of the school at the time the athletes stayed there.

Blevins specifically was considered a school booster because he donated to the school and was part of one of its booster clubs. The hotel itself was a member of the Gamecock Club. The hotel was not allowed to renew its membership in 2011.

Former compliance director Jennifer Stiles approved some of the athletes’ residence at the Whitney, and the school told the NCAA earlier this year that Stiles’ assessment of the situation was “flawed.”

“The University’s Office of Compliance Services made a good-faith error in judgment when it approved the lease terms in August 2009,” school officials wrote in their Wednesday report. The compliance office “acted in a diligent manner in reviewing the situation but simply made a good faith error in judgment when it approved the leases. … (Stiles’) analysis was in error.”

Earlier this week, Stiles was demoted from her position as director of compliance to a lesser position in the compliance office and saw her annual salary cut to $73,185 from $86,100. South Carolina noted this move in its letter to the NCAA.

Due to the Whitney situation, South Carolina played four ineligible football players in 2009 and 2010. The school did not offer to forfeit any games as part of its punishment. Instead, it offered to pay an $18,500 penalty.

The athletic department also disassociated two South Carolina graduates with ties to the Student Athlete Mentoring Foundation outside of Philadelphia. SAM Foundation president Steve Gordon and treasurer Kevin Lahn 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, according to the NCAA.

“There is no evidence that either representative ever conditioned any offer of benefits to any prospect upon the prospect’s commitment to attend the University,” South Carolina wrote in its response, while also acknowledging the pair acted improperly.

In addition to being a South Carolina graduate, Lahn has given more than $190,000 to the university since his graduation, according to the school.

Freshman wide receiver Damiere Byrd, a member of the SAM Foundation, was suspended for the first four games of the season after the NCAA determined he had been given $2,700 worth of recruiting inducements from the SAM Foundation. The school does not dispute that.

The NCAA alleged 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 with food and entertainment at his home at least five times and sent an email to the USC compliance department asking for Pastides to meet with Byrd’s mother during Byrd’s official visit to the school, according to its letter.

Pastides was never shown the letter and did not meet with the Byrd’s mother, according to the NCAA and the school. Byrd’s name is redacted in the Notice of Allegations, but Gordon identified that player as 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.

Gordon has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the case. Mangus said last month that he believes he violated no NCAA rules in recruiting Byrd, and Spurrier told The State he also doesn’t think Mangus is guilty of wrongdoing.

South Carolina’s administration appears to agree with that.

“The University is satisfied that while mistakes were made, none of its employees knowingly disregarded NCAA legislation to gain a significant recruiting or competitive advantage,” the response reads.

South Carolina has ended its recruitment of all SAM Foundation members who are still in high school, it told the NCAA. 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 in Irmo at a cost of $3,350, the NCAA alleged. South Carolina acknowledged the trip took place and reported to the NCAA that several of its track team members were told the trip was a community outreach program designed to have them encourage at-risk high school athletes to go to college.

“If (South Carolina was) doing things illegal, it wasn’t doing them very good. They only got one kid,” Gordon told The State in September. “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.”

South Carolina officials wrote to the NCAA that they believed that because the SAM Foundation trips often included multiple athletes, most of whom were not being recruited by the Gamecocks, that it mitigated the benefits, however, “the University acknowledges that these trips benefited the University’s recruitment of the prospects,” the school wrote in Wednesday’s response.

“Although some of Lahn’s actions appear to have been motivated by a desire for at least one of the prospects (name redacted) to attend the University, the University believes many of the activities of the S.A.M. Foundation were well-intentioned,” the school’s report reads.

South Carolina officials missed several chances to stop questionable behavior regarding to the Whitney Hotel and the SAM Foundation, the NCAA believes, leading to the failure to monitor charges, and the chool agreed Wednesday with that assessment.

Pastides, Spurrier, Mangus, Stiles, athletics director Eric Hyman and assistant basketball coach Mike Boynton (who was named by the NCAA as being involved along with the SAM Foundation in the recruitment of a basketball player) all are expected to appear before the Committee on Infractions, according to the NCAA’s original Notice of Allegations.

Mangus, Boyton and Frye all received letters of reprimand from the university for their role in the NCAA violations. Mangus will be prohibited from recruiting off campus in January and will be unable to receive any salary bonus in 2012-13 or any raise in 2013-14.

South Carolina is subject to repeat violator status in this case because its last 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.

However, the NCAA rarely invokes the repeat violator clause, attorney Michael Buckner, who has represented schools in NCAA cases, told The State.

“Unless there is a lot of intention to commit a violation or much more serious violations going on, I would think the committee would continue on with its practice of implementing significant penalties but not implementing the full range of penalties available to it under the repeat violator clause,” Buckner said.

USC's full response

For fullscreen, downloading and other options, use the toolbar at the bottom of these documents. For supplementary exhibits, see USC's response page.

The original NCAA Notice of Allegations is below this document.

NCAA Notice of Allegations, Sept. 9, 2011

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